August 2004 Bulletin

Patient Information from Your Orthopaedic Connection

Helmets key to child safety in sports

In 2004, riders in the Tour de France bicycle race were required to wear helmets for the first time. No matter what your age or level of experience, whenever you bike, inline skate, ski or engage in other activity where your head is vulnerable to injury, you should wear a helmet. Children under age 12 should also wear helmets when they sled. You need a helmet on every trip, no matter how short. Many accidents happen near home.

Why wear a helmet?

Cuts, bruises and even broken bones will heal, but damage to your brain can last a lifetime. Even a low-speed fall can change your life forever: In an instant your head can smack the street, sidewalk, curb, a car, tree or anything else around you. Why be vulnerable to brain damage—or worse?

How do helmets protect you?

When you fall or crash, your helmet absorbs much of the force of impact that would otherwise hurt your head. Thick plastic foam (firm polystyrene) inside the hard outer shell of your helmet crushes to cushion the blow. The helmet takes the hit instead of your head. (Note: Replace your helmet after a crash.)

Bike helmets

Each year, bike-related crashes kill about 900 people and injure 567,000 others. Although more people than ever are using bike helmets, only half of the more than 80 million bike riders wear them all the time; about 43 percent never use helmets. Wearing a bike helmet reduces your risk of serious head and brain injury by 85 percent.

Choosing a bike helmet

Bicycle shops and discount department stores offer many models of helmets, priced around $20 and up. Choose one that meets the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or the Snell Memorial Foundation. Take some time trying on helmets and choose one with the right size and fit. Key factors:

Your helmet should be smooth and round. Choose one that motorists will see. Many helmets are ventilated, lightweight and fashionable in color.

Children and helmets

Young children are particularly vulnerable to head injuries. They have proportionally larger heads and higher centers of gravity, and their coordination is not fully developed. It is more difficult for children to avoid obstacles when biking, sledding, inline skating, skiing or doing other activities. Children 5 to 14 years of age have the highest injury rate of all bicycle riders and bike accidents are a leading cause of death for children. Tips to help children understand the importance of wearing helmets:

Remember, head injuries occur with skiing and when they occur, they can be devastating. Ski helmets are now commercially available. At the very least, bike helmets can be used.

Content is drawn from the AAOS patient education Web site, Your Orthopaedic Connection. For more information on sports injury prevention, visit the Web site at

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