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Bicycle Head, Neck Injuries Usually Involve Non-Helmet Wearers: Study

New research highlights the need for more effort to enhance the use of bicycle helmets, indicating that traumatic brain and neck injuries nearly always involve cyclists who are not wearing helmets, and many take the risk due to perceived discomfort associated with the protective head gear.

In a study published last week in the medical journal Brain Injury, researchers from the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science indicate that 88% of young riders who suffer a head or neck injury were not wearing helmets, and 78% of such injuries among adults do not involve use of a helmet.

Researchers analyzed data from the National Trauma Data Bank from 2002 through 2012, which logs patient records from over 900 trauma centers and emergency rooms in the United States. They looked at 76,032 reports of bicyclists who experienced head or neck injuries resulting in a visit to the emergency department or Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Only about 22% of injured cyclists reported wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, which is down by approximately 7% when compared to previous research published by the National Institute of Health.

Researchers found the vast majority of the cyclist population involved in a head or neck injury say they did not wear a helmet at the time of the injury, which could have significantly reduced the severity of their injuries, according to the authors.

Researchers noted children under the age of 17 and adults over the age of 40 were found to have the highest probability of traumatic injuries due to not wearing a helmet. Twelve percent of injured kids wore helmets, 21% of injured men wore helmets, and 28% of injured women were recorded wearing them. Only six percent of injured African American cyclists wore helmets, and only 7.6% of injured Hispanic cyclists did, compared with 27.3% of injured white cyclists and 26.6% of injured Asian/Pacific Islander cyclists.

Men were far less likely to have a helmet on in an accident than women. Researchers noted men were more likely to have to stay in the hospital or an intensive care unit longer than women, had more severe injuries, and were 36% more likely to die from the injuries than women.

While it was not surprising that those wearing helmets were less likely to be seriously injured, researchers noted the study points out certain demographics that could be best helped through interventions such as helmet giveaways and community programs that teach cycling tips.

The research aligns with previous studies that have found riders have almost a 60% better chance of surviving a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during a bike accident when compared to those who were not wearing helmets, according to a 2015 study by the American College of Surgeons. Researchers found riders wearing helmets were 58% less likely to suffer a severe traumatic brain injury, and 59% more likely to survive the injury.

Researchers say the use of helmets when bicycling is essential for preventing serious and traumatic brain injuries, and data has shown that helmets save thousands of lives annually. They can also increase the quality of life for survivors of traumatic crashes, who could have been killed or suffered long-term effects if they had not worn a helmet.

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