Helmets Do Not Stop Child Head Injuries and Concussions

Helmets Do Not Stop Child Head Injuries and Concussions

There’s an article from Slate magazine that has been published in various news publications around the country (e.g., Miami Herald, Huffington Post) which points out something that parents should know: those children’s helmets that you see sold everywhere, sized for infants through teenagers and young adults, are not going to protect your child from every kind of head injury.

The article, “There’s Something About Helmets You Might Not Know,” points out that helmets are not designed to be concussion-proof and that parents should not assume that their child is completely protected from a head injury just because they have a helmet.

Concussions May Happen Even With a Helmet

The Slate article references an 2013 study by the Institute of Medicine (read it here) that confirms that the way that helmets are currently made, the product design isn’t going to stop someone wearing that helmet from suffering a concussion while they are riding a bicycle or play a school sport like soccer, hockey, or football.


Helmets Are Still a Smart Move

The fact that helmets are not being designed at this point in time to protect wearers from concussion injuries does not mean that helmets are not a safety protection that does work to protect the wearer from harm. Consider, for example, this month’s warning from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), advising people who are riding bicycles in the nice summer weather to wear a helmet.

According to the NHTSA, anyone riding a bicycle should “wear a properly-fitted helmet that meets Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards.”

Helmets may not prevent all injuries, but they can lessen the damage suffered during an accident. Consider the first-person account published in Yahoo News by Beth Greenfield last week; she described a bike accident where she did suffer injuries but they were significantly different than those suffered by a friend who was also biking but crashed without the protection of a helmet. The friend experienced massive brain trauma and a long term recovery; the writer did not.

Sports-related concussions in our children are a real problem in this country. This is a recognized national problem to be solved: for instance, President Obama hosted a national White House summit on the issue in May 2014.

Helmet design is key to finding better protections for our kids.

However, as Andrew Sullivan points out in his column, part of the issue with concussions and traumatic brain injury is the way a sharp and sudden blow to the head causes a brain injury: the brain moves within the human skull and is harmed by the force of that movement when the impact forces the brain to collide with the skull itself. That collision within the human head is the problem: that is where the brain Is hurt.

School sports and minor bike accidents can cause the brain to collide against the human skull internally in an event that isn’t thought to be life-altering or serious to the victim (or their parents, coaches, teachers, etc.) at the time. Nevertheless, these silent injuries to the brain can have permanent and severe repercussions.

Sullivan calls them “micro-concussions.” And as he points out, the bike helmet especially will not protect you or your child from them.

In fact, one neurosurgeon in Great Britain warns that bike helmets, as they are currently designed, offer much less protection than many may assume; he considers them “flimsy” and of little protective value to the wearer.

Should your child wear a helmet? Yes.
Should coaches, parents, teachers, caretakers, and others be aware and understand that anytime a child suffers any type of blow to the head they need to be monitored for minor brain harm? Yes.

Should you rely upon a helmet to keep your child safe?  No.  If you allow your child to ride a bike, or to play a sport, then you must be aware and alert to the risk of injury and make sure that those responsible for overseeing that child in any sport activities are closing monitoring play for the possibility of head injuries, even minor ones.

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