Does Wearing a Helmet Raise the Risk of a Spine Injury?

Wearing a Helmet May Raise the Risk of a Spine Injury in Los Angeles, CA

For safety reasons, the benefits of wearing a helmet are clear and rarely disputed, especially among doctors who routinely treat patients who have been in accidents. Additionally, it’s mandatory for all motorcyclists to wear helmets in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and nearly 30 other states have some version of a helmet law. As far as whether or not helmets can minimize the risk of sustaining a spine-related injury while riding, the answer may not be as straightforward.

What Riders Have to Say

Some motorcycle enthusiasts claim standard helmets have several drawbacks. In addition to reduced peripheral vision, some riders assert that the weight of a helmet actually increases the risk of sustaining a serious neck or upper spine injury should an accident occur because of the biomechanics involved (the way movement is affected by wearing a helmet).

What Researchers Believe

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health set out to determine if helmets really do increase the risk of spine injury. They looked for correlations between helmet use and cervical spine (neck) injuries at a trauma center over a five-year period. Researchers concluded there is a reduced risk of spinal injuries when helmets are worn. The study was based on a basic assessment of the types of injuries sustained by helmeted and non-helmeted riders. Some other notable findings from the study include:

  • Riders who didn’t wear helmets were more likely to have cervical spine fractures than their helmeted counterparts
  • Injuries sustained were 20 percent more likely to be worse for non-helmeted patients
  • Riders who didn’t wear helmets had longer hospital and ICU stays than riders who wore helmets
  • Death rates were higher for riders who didn’t wear helmets
  • Helmeted riders had fewer C1 and C5 (midsection of the cervical spine) fractures and ligament injuries

The Final Verdict

Confusion over the issue of helmets may have stemmed from a mid-1980s study that suggested helmets minimize the risk of head injuries but also increase the risk of neck injuries. However, several studies since then have not produced the same results (except for the conclusion about head injuries). An extensive study of more than 5,000 patients who sustained head injuries concluded that all types of helmets offered important protection for riders, including a reduced risk of cervical spine injuries.

Riders who prefer not to wear helmets may have some points worth considering. Still, there’s much more compelling evidence to show that the benefits of wearing a helmet far outweigh any potential risks or inconveniences. Plus, there are lightweight carbon fiber helmets and half-helmets available that can increase comfort and ease stress on the cervical spine for the wearer. If you do experience any lingering spine-related pain following a ride, make an appointment with your doctor or a minimally invasive spine surgeon. Beverly Hills residents who are experiencing spine pain should get in touch with the expert surgeons at The Spine Institute Center.

Whether they need spinal fusion surgery or a fusion alternative like lumbar disc replacement, Beverly Hills patients can rely on the surgeons at The Spine Institute to determine the best course of action for alleviating their chronic pain. To schedule an in-person evaluation, please call 310-828-7757 today.