Bicycle Helmets Need an Update

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Red Bicycle Helmet

Source: Ralf Roletschek

While new technology is being developed and is even starting to hit stores, the only tool the average consumer has to protect them and their loved ones from brain injury is a helmet, and helmets definitely haven’t advanced along with our knowledge of brain injury. According to CBC News, this is particularly true for bicycle helmets.

Bike helmets are designed to protect wearers from catastrophic head injuries like skull fractures, lacerations, or confusions, and in those aspects, the helmets are very successful. But, our understanding of traumatic brain injuries and concussions has come a long way recently, and protective headgear for helmets have largely followed a standard which was established and not changed since 1999.

When bicycle riders fall and hit their head on the pavement or a vehicle, the brain undergoes linear acceleration in the direction of the impact, which is usually the cause of skull fractures. At impact however, the brain can also undergo rotational or angular acceleration which is believed to be the leading cause of concussion.

“The evidence from science is that concussion is more related to rotational acceleration, which in laymen’s terms is really a jiggle of the brain. It’s like the movement of Jell-O in a bowl when you jiggle it,” explained neurosurgeon Charles Tator. That “jiggling” can cause cellular damage to the brain, which in turn can negatively affect neurons and their connectors.

Bicycle helmets save thousands of lives every year, but there are no bicycle helmets which can do much to protect brains from concussions. Football helmets have been constantly tweaked and “improved” over the last decade and while none can actively prevent concussions, they can protect the brain more than the helmets being worn by cyclists. Not, to say cyclists need to be wearing full football helmets, but they need headgear designed with our current knowledge of TBI in mind, rather than standards well over a decade old.

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