MEDICAL MONDAY: The medical facts behind helmets and skiing.

This article is written in honor of my brave niece who is recovering from a ski accident. 

She is very athletic and very experienced. She is not reckless, and was wearing a helmet. Nonetheless, she caught an edge, lost a ski,  flew out of bounds, hit a tree, lost consciousness and went down a tree well. Luckily, a patrol just happened to be skiing right behind her and dashed down after her. She and my sister in law, who nearly passed by the single ski on the trail, hauled her out, and our awesome Alert Helicopter evacuated her. Her helmet suffered a big gash. She got a concussion and some hairline spine fractures. People keep saying she is so lucky that that she was wearing a helmet. 

It wasn't luck. The data and recommendations are crystal clear and their family follows them. I have summarized them here for you. They come from a review article which was published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery in April of 2014. This review combined the findings of 16 prior well designed studies which examined the effects of helmet wearing on both skiers and boarders. Here are some of their key findings: 

  • Injuries in boarders are more numerous and more serious.
  • Incidence of injuries are higher in males, and those under 17 years of age. 
  • A 1996 study showed the average inpatient cost of a skiing or boarding injury to be $22,000.
  • There are 600,000 ski and snow boarding related injuries per year in North America.
  • About a fifth of these are head injuries.
  • About a fifth of these head injuries are severe enough to cause loss of consciousness of concussion.
  • That's about 24,000 people per year losing consciousness or having a concussion with their head injury.
  • The 16 studies collectively showed anywhere between a 30%-60 % reduced incidence of head injury while wearing a helmet. 
  • They also showed decreased incidence of loss of consciousness upon striking a fixed object while wearing a helmet. 
  • Wearing a helmet is not associated with increased rates of other injuries, poorer responses to stimuli, or riskier behaviors. 

The authors concluded that helmets should be strongly recommended and that policies should be put into place to promote their usage. 

My niece is going to be fine. But she has a few challenging weeks ahead of her. She will miss her finals, miss her sports, and end up with lots of physical therapy and doctor visits instead. We are just grateful she is with us and, and still moving and smiling.