Monday, September 19, 2016

Bike Helmets Cannot Prevent Brain Injuries

Perhaps the most deceptive misconception that bicycle helmet manufacturers and proponents like to see in the media and from public (even if they avoid making the statement themselves) is that bicycle helmets prevent brain injuries. Those who profit from helmet sales and those who genuinely believe they are saving lives by pushing bike helmets often prompt these lies by emphasizing that helmets “can” prevent “head injuries.” Note that a cut to the scalp is a head injury. Brain injuries are different, though most readers don’t make the distinction.

Many supposedly scientific studies readily skew data to force their intended outcome of showing bike helmets do protect brains, but each of these have been debunked, usually finding that deaths were from other causes and data sets were lopsided. But many people simply want to believe that helmets prevent brain damage, even though no such device on the outside of the head can prevent the brain from impacting the inside of the skull. Our brains are suspended in fluid. Upon impact, whether the skull is protected or not, the brain will hit the skull. Simple physics.

Unfortunately, we must look to other activities where helmets have been tried in order to find sincere efforts to question their use or at least effectiveness. Here in the U.S., the National Football League (NFL) has been forced by injured players and their families to admit that no helmet can stop concussions. Instead, they are finally engaging a concussion protocol that takes players out of the game after a blow to their helmeted head.

The article linked in the above paragraph about the NFL notes that there could conceivably be a helmet that lessened brain injury but the design would require 15 inches (38 centimeters) of foam wrapping the entire head. Another potential design could mimic single-use motorcycle helmets – full head, heavy shell – and even their manufactures admit they cannot prevent brain injury. We can safely assume that most cyclists will not want to wear such a helmet, especially since the risk of a cyclist banging their head is no more likely than that of pedestrian’s and far less likely than those is cars.

The latest sport to ditch helmets is boxing. This interests me because I have recently taken up the sport and love it. I learned last week from our coach that we need to focus our punches on our opponent’s head. And yet, the Olympics banned headgear for male boxers this year citing an increase in concussions since headgear was made mandatory. They show that boxers began leading with their head more, similar to studies that show an increase in risky behavior by helmeted cyclists. I also wonder if the increased diameter of the boxers’ heads increased potential for contact, much like a bike helmet increases the chance of a cyclists’ head hitting the ground or the object they collide with.

Let’s hope that bicycle helmet manufacturers and proponents will soon follow American football and Olympic boxing in admitting that their product cannot prevent brain injuries. It’s time for more honesty on this topic!