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Protect The Noggin: The Importance Of Wearing A Helmet

May 1, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Imagine life without your head. You couldn’t, could you?

 

Your head and the important organ it protects–the brain–are two of the most important parts of your body bundled together in a nice package. Without your head, you wouldn’t be able to use the majority of your five senses to enjoy life. Imagine not being able to take a deep sniff of that first dark, bitter coffee of the morning. Imagine if you couldn’t see a beautiful sunset, hear a symphony orchestra during a night out, or eat your mother’s famous pot roast. Without your brain, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the sense of touch, either, because your body would just be standing around lost, waiting for the nerves from the brain to send the signals down to the rest of you so you can pet that fuzzy lamb to your heart’s content.

 

But life without your head (or even “just” your brain) is something that could definitely happen if you don’t wear a helmet while participating in certain activities. 2014 statistics posted by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety noted that 60 percent of deaths that happened because of bicycle crashes were because the bicycle rider was not wearing a helmet. They also noted that in other more localized studies, that number could be as high as 97 percent.

Statistics available from the US Department of Transportation for the 2017 to 2018 years are just as grim. 2018 saw the highest number of deaths at 857. 2017 offers more exact statistics: 53 bicyclists 14 and under were killed. The average age of those killed was 47, and males made up 87% of fatalities.

 

With numbers like those, who wouldn’t want to wear a helmet?

If you need more convincing, the World Health Organization aptly explains what exactly happens when you get into an accident without wearing a helmet. You might think that there’s only one way to cause injury to your head, but in fact there are two different ways this can happen. The first way is the type most of us think of–via direct contact. Simple enough, right? You’re moving along minding your own business when something else smashes into you. The second method of injury is via acceleration-deceleration. This is the type that happens most often during a vehicular crash. You’re driving happily along minding your own business when something happens that causes you to get thrown from your bike. You hit the ground and think it stops at that, but no. Your head’s motion may stop but since your brain has its own mass, it keeps on moving until it hits the inside of the skull. And since we know from physics that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the brain then rebounds back and hits the opposite side.

What’s the big deal? Well, you can get anything from some kind of minor concussion to a more fatal head injury. While concussions themselves may not be the biggest deal in most people’s minds, the more fatal type of injuries are divided into two different types. Closed head injuries are the less severe type that can result from acceleration-deceleration. This type happens simply as a result of the impact of the brain hitting the skull and includes less potentially severe things like concussions, contusions, and intracranial hemorrhages in various parts of the brain. Open head injuries involve skull fractures and penetrating injuries.

 

That sounds more scary, right? So what can you do to improve your chances of survival? Simple: wear a helmet!

 

But how, exactly, does a helmet help?

 

The most basic purpose of a helmet is to take the blunt force of a collision, thereby protecting your head from the worst of the blow. Without a helmet you may have been at risk for internal bleeding; now you have a chance of walking away with “just” a concussion. It also spreads the force of the impact across multiple areas so that instead of getting one powerful blow, you may just have several smaller ones. And perhaps the most important, the helmet protects the skull itself from injury by acting as a barrier between it and the head.

 

So now that the facts are in, the action that must be taken is clear. What’s the importance of wearing a helmet? Helmets save lives!

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