The first thing that you should know is that helmets are designed to protect your skull, not your head. They do this by redistributing the forces of an impact away from the point of contact, which can be at any point on the surface of your head. If you were to hit a wall or fall off a bicycle without wearing one, for example, your brain would slam against the inside of your skull and could potentially cause severe injury or death. The only way to be effective is if it takes up as much room as possible on top of your head.
Do Bike Helmets Save Life?
Though they are not entirely effective in stopping blunt trauma to the skull, helmets can at least prevent severe injuries when you fall or are hit by a car. Falling off your bike while wearing one was once considered the leading cause of death among children under age 14. However, that number has fallen drastically since bicycle helmets became famous (and more expensive) in the 1990s. To be sure, there is still no doubt that helmets save lives. A study published in July 2013 found that bicycle helmet use saved nearly 6,000 cyclists’ lives between 1982 and 2007.
However, when it comes to brain injury, it appears that helmets don’t do much more than preventing concussion (or mild traumatic brain injury). A 2012 review of studies found that helmet use was not associated with better long-term neurological outcomes and did not reduce the risk of any specific type of brain injury. For example, we know that you can get a concussion even if the impact is not strong, and cycling could increase the risk of getting it because injuries occur when you fall. A study published in 2004 found that road accidents resulting in head injury were much more likely to result in a concussion than falls or motor vehicle collisions.
How Does a Bicycle Helmet Protect Your Head?
Bicycle helmets work by distributing the impact of a crash over a larger area on top of your head. To protect your head from blunt trauma, they also cushion your skull and add some extra padding on the inside. If your helmet doesn’t fit right, it can do more harm than good and put you at higher risk of getting brain injuries, concussions, and even fatal brain bleeds. Bicycle helmets work because the sides of your head and forehead bear the most weight when you fall or get hit. Because they distribute that weight over a larger area, they reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or death from blunt trauma to the skull. If you fall off of a bicycle without a helmet, your head can deflect around inside the helmet and hit the inside of the helmet. This may cause bruising or even a brain injury. When you fall without a helmet, blood vessels in your head can also break and bleed. The blood forms a hematoma inside your skull, which can also lead to swelling around your brain and loss of consciousness.
When you fall or get into an accident while wearing a helmet, the thick layer of padding inside helps absorb some of the force to prevent further injury. If you fall onto your head, your helmet can act as a pillow and smoosh down so that it’s no longer shaped like a sphere. This limits the amount of pressure that is concentrated at one point on your skull. However, while there is no doubt that helmets work, their science is still not entirely clear. That’s because we don’t know precisely how they work and whether there are other ways to reduce the risk of brain injury altogether.
Do Bike Helmets Protect Noggins and Face Bones?
While helmets are designed to protect against skull fractures, they don’t do much to protect the rest of your head. A helmet only protects the inside of your head. The front and back surfaces are exposed to the outside world when you ride. Some experts believe that this can put you at greater risk for traumatic brain injury (TBI) or even death if you get hit by an object while cycling. Other experts disagree with this assessment because helmets can cushion the impact of a fall or collision by distributing it over a larger area on top of your skull.
Despite arguments about whether bike helmets protect your entire head, most cyclists still wear them. A study published in 2013 found that 74% of participants preferred to wear helmets even though they were aware of the lack of evidence that helmets prevent brain injury. Wearing one may also lead you to aggressively ride on the roads more, pushing yourself harder on the bike so you can feel protected while riding.
Key Things to Know About Helmets
The helmet must also be properly fitted. This means getting it to sit level on your head without the front edge resting too far back or too far forward. It should not rock side-to-side or move around once you fully tighten the straps. If it does, get a different size. No helmet can protect against concussions because there are no blowholes to allow your brain to escape into the skull if you begin to swell after impact.
While there is no way to test this for sure, most scientists agree that helmets also act as a “barrier” that reduces the chances of severe head injury. They believe that the reduction in injuries goes beyond just preventing skull fractures and penetrating brain trauma. The idea is that cycling helmets slow your head down before it comes into contact with the ground or other surfaces, allowing your neck muscles to absorb some of the impacts. However, this same principle helps you lose helmet hair, so many professional cyclists prefer not to wear them. One Swedish study published in 2012 found that helmets did reduce concussions among cyclists by 85% but did not prevent brain injuries altogether.
While bike helmets cannot prevent all brain injuries, they reduce the chances of a concussion, skull fracture, and even death from a fall. They can also reduce the risk of TBI or brain bleeds from blunt trauma. Your head should always be considered one of your most vulnerable areas, especially when you are in an accident or riding your bike on city streets. While bike helmets can prevent serious head injuries like skull fractures and concussions when you fall off your bike, they will not protect you from all brain injuries. So if you do decide to wear a helmet, make sure that it fits correctly and is comfortable. If not, it could make a profound difference in your life and prevent serious injury.
What should I consider before buying a good-quality bike helmet?
The fitting helmet fits you correctly and gives you maximum protection. However, because there are so many different bike helmets on the market, you should always consider your compatibility with the bike, your riding style, and other factors.