NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Despite concerns that the extra weight of a helmet could cause neck injuries during skiing accidents, that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to Canadian researchers.
Although studies indicate that ski helmets are protective, their value became a topic of debate after the death of actress Natasha Richardson following a skiing accident last year. Richardson wasn’t wearing a helmet when she fell and hit her head on the slope, but some media suggested it wouldn’t have saved her anyway.
For their study, the researchers analyzed a decade’s worth of accidents involving snowboarders and skiers in Quebec. In slightly more than a quarter of nearly 3,000 neck injuries, the injured person had worn a helmet during the mishap. By contrast, only about one-fifth of those who had sustained injuries below the neck had worn one.
At first glance, the results would suggest that using a helmet ups the odds of causing damage to the neck. But when accounting for other factors such as skill, terrain and weather conditions, the increased risk disappeared. This held true even in young children, whose disproportionately large heads would make them extra susceptible to neck injuries.
The researchers did not answer requests for comments, but note in the American Journal of Epidemiology that their findings jibe with earlier reports.
“To our knowledge, this is the largest study to have examined the effect of helmet use on neck injuries in skiers and snowboarders,” they write. “Our study provides additional evidence that helmets do not significantly increase the risk of neck injuries among skiers and snowboarders, and their use should be encouraged.”
The National Ski Areas Association, a US trade association, promotes helmets, and several lawmakers are currently considering mandating their use.
SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, online April 20, 2010. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/kwq039v1
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