Motorcycle Helmet Use Proven to Lower Risk of Cervical Spine Injury
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Motorcycle Helmet Use Proven to Lower Risk of Cervical Spine Injury

Thursday, May 17, 2018By Nina Shapirshteyn

New findings published in the Journal of Neurosurgery could result in a greater push toward mandatory motorcycle helmet use while riding. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison found that contrary to prior claims that helmet use is ineffective in preventing cervical spine injuries (CSI) in a crash, using a helmet actually lowers the risk of suffering a CSI and should be worn consistently while operating a motorcycle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle spared the lives of 1859 riders in 2016. It projects that 802 lives could have been saved as well with helmet use. Motorcycle helmet use is known to reduce the likelihood of traumatic brain injuries following a collision on the road. Nevertheless, the United States does not have consistent laws requiring riders to wear helmets. The laws in each state vary considerably; some states only require helmet use for riders under the age of 18. In Europe, by contrast, comprehensive laws across the region impose penalties on all riders for failure to wear a protective helmet.

One of the reasons cited for the absence of stricter helmet laws is the belief that wearing a helmet may lead to an increased risk of CSI in a crash. Numerous studies have investigated this link and results have been mixed, though the majority of studies do not support the conclusion that there is a higher incidence of CSI among helmet wearing cyclists. The current study by the University of Wisconsin concluded that there is no relationship between helmet use and higher risks of CSI. Instead, they found that helmets provide some degree of protection while operating a motorcycle.

In the study, researchers examined 1061 patients who were treated for injuries sustained during a motorcycle crash between 2010 and 2015. Of this group, 30.4 percent of riders were wearing helmets and 69.6 percent were not wearing helmets when the crash occurred. In patients who were not wearing helmets, cervical spine fractures were more common - 10.8 percent of non-helmeted patients were diagnosed with a cervical spine fracture as compared to 4.6 percent of helmeted patients. The patients who wore helmets also suffered fewer ligament injuries. These findings were determined to be statistically significant in demonstrating that wearing a helmet in a crash can reduce the incidence of sustaining a CSI, especially a cervical spine fracture.  

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