BC Medical Association

BC Medical Association

May 23, 2006 12:48 ET

BC Medical Association: Wearing a Bike Helmet can Reduce Serious Head Injury

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(CCNMatthews - May 23, 2006) - BC Medical Association

Sunshine, holidays, and longer days mean that people will be spending more time outside involved in activities such as cycling. While this is good for people's health and well-being, it can also be dangerous if cyclists are not properly protected.

At least 21 US states, all of Australia, and most of Canada have helmet laws. The mandatory use of bicycle helmets became law in British Columbia in 1996, however a large percentage of cyclists in this province still do not wear them.

The brain is very different from other parts of the body and as such does not heal the same way broken bones do. The brain is a network of thousands of tiny, interconnecting paths where information flows. When the brain hits hard against the skull, those connections can tear and often cannot be repaired, plus the brain can bruise and swell which can affect blood and oxygen flow. These can all contribute to serious, and sometimes irreversible, brain injury. Additionally, our skulls are not very thick, and if they experience a direct impact they can crack.

The bike helmet works by absorbing the force of the impact and spreading it out over the entire helmet, reducing the impact on your head and brain. The stiff foam, or polystyrene that picnic coolers are made from, found inside the helmet will crush thereby cushioning the blow. The thin plastic outer shell helps the helmet skid easily on rough pavement to avoid jerking your neck. The shell also holds the foam together after the first impact.

"Even though all cyclists should wear a helmet, it's important to establish early how important it is for our children to wear a bike helmet," explains Dr. Lloyd Oppel of the BC Medical Association's Council on Health Promotion. "We can do this best through setting an example by wearing one ourselves, explaining to our children why it's important to protect their heads, and insisting that they not ride their bikes without a helmet." Considering that a cyclist can expect a bicycle accident within their next 4,500 miles of riding, it's best to be prepared.

Even though cycling is a reasonably safe activity that millions of people across the nation enjoy, there are four major ways a cyclist can fall: a sudden unexpected stop, skidding, the front wheel diverting such as getting caught in a rut, and losing balance usually because the cyclist is moving too slow. Wearing a bicycle helmet has been shown to reduce serious head injuries by 85%.

Although there are different types of helmets for different sports, helmets are not interchangeable between sports. They are designed to protect in distinctive ways dependent on the sport. Check to make sure that your bike helmet is certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Snell, or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

"Perhaps many of these accidents cannot be prevented, but the resulting injury can certainly be mitigated. Wear a bicycle helmet, wear one that fits, and wear it properly," said Dr. Oppel.

Contact Information

  • BC Medical Association
    Linda Munro
    (604) 638-2881 or (604) 306-1866 (pager)