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Study: Motorcycle helmets may reduce cervical spine injuries

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that wearing a proper helmet while motorcycling saves lives. The agency estimates that doing so saved the lives of about 1,859 bikers in 2016. Another 802 lives could have been saved if every biker wore a helmet.

Moreover, motorcycle helmets have been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of traumatic brain injuries from motorcycle accidents. Nevertheless, riders in Texas and other states have fought hard for the right to ride without helmets. Why?

Beyond the desire for freedom of choice, motorcyclists have argued that wearing a helmet has downsides as well as upsides. For example, some helmets limit peripheral vision. Wearing a helmet, some have argued, might actually increase your risk of a catastrophic cervical spine (neck) injury because the added weight could increase torque on the neck.

A recent study in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine implies the opposite. Whatever the forces involved, the study found statistically significant evidence that helmet use protects riders from certain types of cervical spine injury (CSI).

The research described in "Motorcycle helmets and cervical spine injuries: a 5-year experience at a Level 1 trauma center" was performed at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison. Doctors reviewed 1,061 patient charts of people who had suffered injuries in motorcycle accidents and who were treated at the Level 1 trauma center between 2010 and 2015. A little over 30 percent of those patients had been wearing helmets; about 70 percent had not.

The researchers found several statistically significant differences between the two groups. Of those riders wearing helmets, 7.4 percent suffered at least one CSI. Of those who were not, 15.4 percent suffered at least one CSI. Ligament injuries and cervical spine fractures were also statistically more common among riders who had not worn helmets.

Although the sample size was a bit small in this research, the authors were able to demonstrate that wearing a helmet is associated with a significant reduction in the chance of sustaining a CSI, neck ligament damage or a cervical spine fracture.

"Our study suggests," stated one author, "that wearing a motorcycle helmet is a reasonable way to limit the risk of injury to the cervical spine in a motorcycle crash."

Whether to wear a helmet while motorcycling is up to you. We believe you should have the access to the most recent scientific information when making your decision. Regardless of what you choose, we are here to help you recover all appropriate compensation after a motorcycling injury.

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