If you play a contact or extreme sport, use a helmet, protect your head, and prevent a brain injury. Simple, right?
Not so fast.
Were helmets so helpful, why would incidences of concussion rise among pro hockey players after helmets were mandated by the league 1979? In the 10-year period 1986-1996, there were an average 12 concussions reported annually among National Hockey League players. For the 2013-2014 season, there were 53 reported concussions, down from 78 just a season before.
And consider this: While an estimated 70% of skiers and snowboarders use a helmet—nearly triple the number from 2003—there has been no reduction in brain injuries, according to a 2013 New York Times report, even as researchers suggest helmet use could prevent 60% of the nearly 120,000 people who suffer head injuries from these sports each year.
Truth of the matter is, helmets are not the be-all-end-all strategy of brain injury prevention but only one leg of a concussion prevention approach, approach that includes training, diagnosis, rule revisions, and, of course, helmets and other safety-related equipment.
But placing emphasis on a helmet only, that’s the problem. Helmet use may lead wearers to adopt a sense of invincibility, an ‘it-can’t-happen-to-me’ confidence no matter the sport or activity. This invulnerability may lead to more risky behaviors on the playing field, placing the wearer at increased risk of injury.
And in some sports, it’s the culture that denies its players the basic, rudimentary safety due to machismo or fashion. Wear a helmet in rugby, soccer? That may be as strange as wearing a helmet to the mall.
Next blog: The Problem with Helmets: Part 2 (of 3) – Where Statistics Fail the Helmet – Why Use A Helmet at All? – Of Helmet Innovation and Crash Test Dummies