Are skiers and snowboarders prone to head injuries?

There is growing evidence that the risk of head injury and of loss of consciousness increases when a person is not wearing a helmet and falls while skiing or snowboarding, according to a new report published in the fall 2009 issue of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

Traumatic brain injury accounts for 50% to 88% of skiing and snowboarding fatalities. There is evidence that helmet use prevents mild to moderate injury, yet there is some controversy around whether helmets prevent severe or fatal head injuries. The authors of the present study reviewed emergency department medical records at hospitals in two regions to explore how helmet use, region, and location affected the incidence of head injury.

Emergency records of injured skiers and snowboarders presenting during the period July 2002 to July 2004 to nine hospitals in Colorado, New York, and Vermont were reviewed to determine helmet use, the terrain involved in the injury, and how these two factors affected mental status. The researchers found that there were more collisions with fixed objects in the Northeast, loss of consciousness was more likely to occur in terrain park users, and those in Colorado were less likely to lose consciousness after a fall. Notably, loss of consciousness was less likely in helmet users than in non-helmet users.

The authors hope the study will meaningfully add to the increasing and much-needed documentation on head injuries sustained while skiing or snowboarding, and support the use of helmets in such winter sports.

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About the author


Ryan Alford