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Safe Biking Requires Annual Check-Up

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In terms of accident prevention, helmets are where it's at, Thomas Robb, DO, director of the trauma center at St. Barnabas Medical Center in New York, tells WebMD. Robb and his staff initiated a helmet safety program late last year and have already distributed 3,000 helmets.

"We plan to give away another 2,000 in the next month," he says.

Robb says he and his emergency room colleagues are making the rounds of schools and recreation centers to preach the helmet gospel.

"I tell them that there is a big difference between a head injury and a broken arm or hand," says Robb. "I tell them that the arm will heal, but very often there is no healing from a head injury."

A few hundred miles southwest of Robb, Linda Hawkins, Philadelphia's "Helmet Lady" is preaching the same message. Hawkins is coordinator of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Philadelphia, a volunteer group housed at Children's Medical Center.

She tells WebMD that helmets are a must -- but to be effective "the helmet has to be the right size. Lots of times parents want to buy a helmet, but they don't fit the helmet in the store so they get the wrong size.

Typically a helmet will be sized by age; for example, the box will say for ages 5 to 7. Parents with a 6-year-old will buy that helmet, but it may not fit, she says. So if it doesn't fit, but the 6-year-old has a new bike, he or she will be riding the bike while the parent is exchanging the helmet. Wrong. Rule number one is open the box and fit the helmet in the store."

Hawkins says a helmet fits when the side straps form a "V" around the child's ears, the chinstrap allows just one finger to fit under the chin, and the clip is in the center.

"And most important, the helmet has to be worn so that it covers the forehead. It tell kids to protect the smart spot," she says.

Hawkins says too that if "the helmet has been in an accident, it needs to be replaced. Some helmet manufacturers will include warranty cards that allow replacement after accidents, and I recommend checking into this before buying a helmet."

After fitting the bike and the helmet, Pribut has one last piece of advice: Stay away from cotton socks.

Once the biker has worked up a sweat, "cotton socks just fill with moisture and swell. That leads to blisters or athletes' foot," he says. A better choice would be "a biking sock that costs about $5 to $7. The socks are made of synthetic material that draws off the moisture."

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