Ski Helmets

Ski Helmets

UVA  Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Helmets Advisable for Skiers UVa Researchers Say

When you hit the ski slopes this winter, make sure you don’t hit your head. You should be especially watchful if you’re younger than 17 or older than 65. People in these age groups are at greater risk of sustaining serious head trauma during skiing, according to a study by researchers at the University of Virginia Health System.

The answer for America’s 15 million skiers? Wear a helmet.

The study was published in the May issue of the journal Brain Injury by principal investigator  Dr. Paul T. Diamond, associate professor of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UVa.

Although ski injuries have declined as a result of improvements in equipment design, ski-related head injuries have not declined and now represent about 15 percent of all injuries and 22 percent of injuries in children younger than 15, the study said.

“Ski equipment has been improved, but helmets still aren’t standard equipment for skiers,” says Dr. Diamond. “Ski poles have been modified to decrease the incidence of ‘skier’s thumb’. Bindings have been redesigned to decrease the incidence of foot and leg injuries. If helmets became standard ski equipment, the incidence of head injuries to skiers could also be reduced.”

The Study examined data on 118 Colorado residents hospitalized during a three-year period with ski-related head trauma. Researchers found that children age 17 and younger appeared more than 10 times likely to be hospitalized with a ski-related head injury, while skiers age 65 and older were also at notably increased risk when compared with skiers in their mid-40s to early 60s. Recovery after injury and severity of injury were not significantly different between age groups. Also, there was not a significant difference between men and women in length of hospitalization or recovery after injury.

Although the majority of ski-related head injuries do not result in hospitalization, the study said, head injuries are among the most severe injuries seen and are the cause of up to 88 percent of ski-related fatalities. According to the investigators, safety helmet use should be encouraged in all skiers, but particularly in children and older adults, given their increased risk of serious head trauma.

“One of the issues is that helmets need to be more accessible, says Dr. Diamond. “While we have proven them to be worth the investment, ski helmets are expensive. The cost range of a new helmet can run from $70 to $150. For the occasional skier, ski area rental shops should stock helmets for use by the day.”

Reprinted from UVa Health Talk, UVa Health System, Fall 2001