Did you wear a helmet the last time you went skiing or snowboarding? If you said no, it’s time to change the way you think about winter sports safety. Dr. Scott Livingston, director of education for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, said that people need to wear helmets for these types of activities.
“There is definitely ample research that shows that wearing helmets reduces head injury risk,” he said.
Helmets don’t always prevent concussion, but they do reduce concussion risk and they are highly effective in preventing catastrophic brain injury, Livingston said, citing a book about preventing concussion by Dr. William P. Meehan III, director of the The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Most people don’t associate winter sports with concussions the way football, soccer and lacrosse are. They also don’t have as many participants. However, about 20 percent of skiing or snowboarding injuries are head injuries, Livingston said.
“That may not sound like a huge amount,” he said. “But when you think about all the injuries you can get skiing or snowboarding, the fact that almost a quarter of them are head injuries is quite a lot.”
Changes in Winter Sport Safety
The fact that people generally aren’t too concerned about concussions in these sports is “a big reason for concern,” Livingston said.
That’s finally changing, he said. As with riding a bike, people are gradually accepting the importance of head protection while skiing and snowboarding.
So, why haven’t we encouraged helmets for winter sports until now?
One reason is that data on these injuries isn’t very accurate or readily available, said Livingston.
By some measures, one of every 20 professional snowboarders gets a head injury per season. The figures are higher for freestyle skiing professionals (5.7 per 100 athletes) and lower for downhill skiers (3.5 injuries per 100 athletes).
After a Concussion
If you hit your head while out in the snow, recognize the symptoms of concussion, get assessed by a health care provider, and follow the proper treatment for any head injury.
There’s no set period of time a snowboarder or skier should stay off the slopes after a head injury, Livingston said. In general, people with head injuries should avoid participating in active sports “until they are symptom free and medically cleared by a doctor,” he said.
Rules for the general public about skiing and snowboarding are hard to find. However, you can find one guideline in the protocol for athletes at the United States Skiing and Snowboarding Association. The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center offers guidelines for health care providers on how and when to return to progressive activity following a concussion.
Recommendations on appropriate ski helmets and snowboard helmets are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.