Strapping on a helmet before playing football or hockey may seem like a no-brainer, but did you know that according to Safe Kids Worldwide, less than half of kids use a helmet when riding a bike? But helmets are a good idea for a number of recreational sports including skateboarding, kick scootering, horseback riding, snow skiing and more — and not just for kids.
“Helmets are important even during recreational activities because if you are doing something where there is a chance you can fall and hit your head, wearing a helmet reduces the risk of a severe traumatic injury,” said Nicholas Phillips, MD, a sports medicine physician at The SAM in Corvallis.
Severe traumatic injury can include a skull fracture or internal cranial bleeding but reducing how much extreme trauma affects the head is what a helmet does best.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, of those who suffer from a severe head injury about one-third make a positive recovery, one-third are left with some sort of disability and one-third do not survive. Head injuries that are “moderate” or “mild” generally fare much better.
“A helmet doesn’t necessarily protect from a concussion, but it protects your skull from direct impact and can make the injury much less severe and easier to recover from,” said Phillips.
A study in JAMA found that using a helmet while snow skiing reduced the risk of a severe head injury by 57 percent. And according to Safe Kids Worldwide, wearing a helmet while bicycling can reduce the risk of head injury by 45 percent.
It might be tempting to use your bike helmet for other sports, like horseback riding, but Phillips encourages buying a helmet that’s specific to each activity you are doing with a focus on fit.
“Always choose a helmet that is properly fitted,” said Phillips. “With kids that can be hard because their heads are growing, but some helmets have changeable padding or air inflatable pockets that can help ensure a good fit.”
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good helmet. For recreational sports there are independent helmet-rating entities like the Snell Memorial Foundation or the American National Standards Institute. For organized sports like football, Phillips encourages purchasing a helmet that has been certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission or American Society for Testing and Materials. But the most important factors are that the helmet fits properly and that you’ll wear it.
“Fatalities during sports are extremely rare, but traumatic brain injuries are one possible cause of this horrible outcome,” said Phillips. “A helmet is an important thing you can provide to protect your kids and you.”
The SAM treats athletic injuries to help you get back to top performance.
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