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Helmets Help Skiers, Snowboarders

Lower Odds of Head Injury, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 21, 2006 -- Wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding may be a good idea for safety's sake, a new study suggests.

The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, covered more than 6,000 skiers and snowboarders at eight Norwegian ski resorts in 2002.

The group included 3,277 injured people who were treated and interviewed by the resorts' ski patrols. The other participants, who weren't injured, were interviewed while waiting at the ski lifts.

People wearing helmets were 60% less likely to have head injuries, write Steinar Sulheim, MD, and colleagues. Sulheim works at the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.

Hundreds of Head Injuries

The study shows 578 head injuries, 147 of which were potentially severe, requiring referral to a doctor or hospital.

Beginners, youths, men, boys, and snowboarders had higher risk of head injury, and helmets were protective against head injury in all groups, write Sulheim and colleagues.

It might sound obvious that helmets would help prevent head injury. But what if helmets were mainly worn by cautious people, who are already less likely to get injured than daredevils?

Sulheim's study checked into that possibility. A subgroup of 700 participants were asked whether they considered themselves to be cautious or risky skiers or snowboarders.

"Our data show that risk takers were more likely to use a helmet within all disciplines, age groups, and skill levels," the researchers write.

They add that some experts have voiced concerns that helmets' weight might raise the risk of neck or spine injuries. Sulheim's team didn't find that to be true, but there wasn't enough data to be certain, the study shows.

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