Motorcycle helmets do not raise risk of cervical spine injury: study

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A new study is putting doubt in the old myth that motorcycle helmets raise the risk of cervical spine injury in a crash.

When helmet laws began to be enforced in Canada and the US, one of the arguments the anti-helmet crowd used was that a helmet might protect your brain in a crash, but that it would also raise the risk of cervical spine injury, leaving a crashed rider alive but paralyzed. The theory was that helmets just transferred the force from a crash to the neck, similar to how beefy motocross boots are sometimes blamed for knee injuries while off-road riding.

But according to a study published yesterday in the Journal of Neurosurgery, wearing a motorcycle helmet does not increase the risk of neck injury, and may actually reduce the risk. In the study, authors Paul S. Page, Zhikui Wei and Nathaniel P. Brooks examined the records of 1,061 motorcycle crash victims brought to the Level 1 trauma centre at the University of Wisconsin Hospital Trauma Center between 2010 and 2015. Of these crashed riders, 738 were not wearing helmets, and 323 were wearing helmets (in Wisconsin, wearing a motorcycle helmet is optional).

Of those crashed riders, 114 of the riders without helmets suffered cervical spine injury (15.4 per cent), while only 24 of the helmeted riders suffered cervical spine injuries (7.4 per cent). The study found that 10.8 per cent of the riders without helmets suffered a cervical spine fracture, while only 4.6 per cent of the riders with helmets suffered cervical spine fractures. Riders who crashed with no helmet were also found more likely to have ligament injury, with 3.9 per cent having ligament injury vs. 0.9 per cent of the riders who crashed wearing helmets.

For more information, check out the Journal of Neurosurgery’s website.

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