Motorcycle Helmets Reduce Spine Injuries

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , February 10, 2011

Motorcycle helmets, which dramatically reduce brain injuries and deaths from crashes, also lower the risk of spinal injuries, a Johns Hopkins study shows.

While that may seem as obvious as a bump on the head, Johns Hopkins researchers say their findings actually debunk a decades-old popular myth among anti-helmet lobbyists that wearing a helmet can hurt the spine during a crash. 

“Using this new evidence, legislators should revisit the need for mandatory helmet laws,” said study leader Adil H. Haider, MD, a trauma surgeon, and assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “There is no doubt that helmets save lives and reduce head injury. And now we know they are also associated with a decreased risk of cervical spine injury.”

Haider said the new data refutes a 1986 study by Jonathan P. Goldstein, an economics professor at Bowdoin College, that suggested that the weight of a helmet could cause significant torque on the neck that would be devastating to the spine. The Johns Hopkins study, published online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, shows that helmeted riders were 22% less likely to suffer cervical spine injury than those without helmets. The study reviewed the National Trauma Databank on more than 40,000 motorcycle collisions between 2002 and 2006.

Even with what he called mountains of evidence that helmets reduce mortality and traumatic brain injury after a collision, Haider said several states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas, have over the past 15 years repealed mandatory helmet laws after lobbying from motorcyclists.

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