Cycling Along The Way...

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Silver City, NM, United States
Riders of the wheel. Racers, Roadies, Mountain bikers, Touring cyclists, Commuters, and others. Diamond frames, recumbents, trikes, and more. Sharing a web of connections often misunderstood or unappreciated by those who don't ride. Herewith, my attempt to share some of the more rational thoughts that flit around inside my head while bicycling, knocking back a brew or three, or just thinking about life. Reviews of bicycles, gear, touring, and more, plus some unsolicited posts about people, politics, and philosophy. Other things, too. Me: retired, gave up my TV in 1988, avid cyclist, several cross country tours completed with more to come. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

HELMETS...Not The Protection For Your Brain That You Might Think, Whether Skiing Or Bicycling.

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." ~ Mark Twain

NY Times, December 31, 2013

Ski Helmet Use Is Up, but Brain Injuries Aren't Down

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — The fact that Michael Schumacher was wearing a helmet when he sustained a life-threatening head injury while skiing in France on Sunday probably did not come as a surprise to experts who have charted their increasing presence on slopes and halfpipes in recent years. The fact that the helmet did not prevent Schumacher’s injury probably did not surprise them, either.

Schumacher, the most successful Formula One driver in history, sustained a traumatic brain injury when he fell and hit his head on a rock while navigating an off-piste, or ungroomed, area at a resort in Méribel, France. Although he was wearing a helmet, he sustained injuries that have left him fighting for his life in a hospital in Grenoble, France.

Schumacher’s injury also focused attention on an unsettling trend. Despite the fact that more skiers and snowboarders in the United States than ever are wearing helmets — 70 percent of all participants, nearly triple the number from 2003 — there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sports-related fatalities or brain injuries in the United States, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Experts ascribe that seemingly implausible correlation to the inability of helmets to prevent serious head injuries like Schumacher’s and to the fact that more skiers and snowboarders are engaging in risky behaviors: skiing faster, jumping higher and riding out of bounds.

“The equipment we have now allows us to do things we really couldn't do before, and people’s pushing limits has sort of surpassed people’s ability to control themselves,” Chris Davenport, a professional big-mountain skier, said.

Dave Byrd, the ski association’s director of risk management, attributed the surge in helmet use to grass-roots efforts by resorts, helmet manufacturers and medical professionals to encourage their use. He also cited growing public awareness about brain injuries, a result of persistent news media attention on the issue in sports, particularly in the N.F.L., and several high-profile skiing fatalities, like the ones that killed Natasha Richardson and Sonny Bono. New Jersey is the only state that mandates helmet use, requiring it for children 17 and under.

The increase in helmet use has had positive results. Experts say helmets have reduced the incidence of less serious head injuries, like scalp lacerations, by 30 percent to 50 percent, and Schumacher’s doctors say he would not have survived his fall had he not worn a helmet. But growing evidence indicates helmets do not prevent some of the more serious injuries, like the tearing of delicate brain tissue, said Jasper Shealy, a professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Shealy, who has been studying snow-sports-related injuries at Sugarbush resort in Vermont for more than 30 years, said that could be because those injuries typically involve a rotational component that today’s helmets cannot mitigate. He said his research had not seen any decline in what he called P.S.H.I.'s, for potentially serious head injury, a classification that includes a diagnosed concussion, skull fracture, closed head injury, traumatic brain injury or death by head injury.

In fact, some studies indicate that the number of snow-sports-related head injuries has increased. A 2012 Western Michigan University School of Medicine study on head injuries among skiers and snowboarders in the United States found that the number of head injuries increased 60 percent in a six-year period, from 9,308 in 2004 to 14,947 in 2010, even as helmet use increased by an almost identical percentage over the same period. A March 2013 study by the University of Washington concluded that the number of snow-sports-related head injuries among youths and adolescents increased 250 percent from 1996 to 2010.

Experts agree that the roots of the trend are complicated and could be related to increased awareness about brain injuries and reporting them. But they also agreed on one element underpinning the trend: an increase in risk-taking behaviors that they said the snow-sports industry had embraced. In recent years, many resorts have built bigger features in their terrain parks and improved access to more extreme terrain. At the same time, advances in equipment have made it easier to ski faster, perform tricks and venture out of bounds.

“There’s a push toward faster, higher, pushing the limits being the norm, not the exception,” said Nina Winans, a sports medicine physician at Tahoe Forest MultiSpecialty Clinics in Truckee, Calif. “So, all of those factors — terrain parks, jumping cliffs and opening terrain that maybe wasn't open in the past — play into some of these statistics with injuries.”

The population most susceptible to this culture is the one that is dying, statistics show. Seventy percent of snow-sports fatalities involve men in their late teenage years to late thirties, according to the ski association, the same population that most often engages in high-risk behaviors like driving fast. Head injuries remain the leading cause of fatalities in skiing and snowboarding, Shealy said, about 30 such deaths in the United States each year.

“The helmet does a very good job at protecting against skull lacerations and skull fractures, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect on concussions or T.B.I.'s,” Shealy said, referring to traumatic brain injuries. “Our guess is that this is due to the fact that those injuries are occurring at such a high magnitude of energy that they overwhelm what a helmet can do for you.”

That could be what happened to Schumacher and to Sarah Burke, a four-time X Games superpipe gold medalist who was fatally injured two years ago while skiing in Park City, Utah.

Burke was practicing a routine trick in a 22-foot-tall halfpipe in January 2012 when she fell and hit her head on the packed snow. Despite the fact that she was wearing a helmet, she ruptured her vertebral artery, which caused massive bleeding in her brain. That triggered cardiac arrest, which deprived her brain of oxygen. She died nine days after the accident.

Some helmet manufacturers are trying to make helmets safer by introducing technologies that better mitigate some of the forces that cause brain injuries. One such technology, the Multi-directional Impact Protection System, or MIPS, is designed to absorb the rotational forces that produce serious brain injuries. But some medical professionals contended that wearing a helmet could give skiers and snowboarders a false sense of security.

“There’s no 100 percent prevention of brain injury,” said Alan Weintraub, the medical director of the brain injury program at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. “Because the more the head and brain are protected, the more risks people take, the more velocities happen with those risks and the more velocities are transmitted to the skull and brain.”

The bigger issue, some experts said, is addressing a snow-sports culture that celebrates risk. Last January, the film director Lucy Walker released “The Crash Reel,” which documents the snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s comeback from the traumatic brain injury he sustained in 2009. By exploring extreme snow sports, Walker said, she hoped to increase awareness of traumatic brain injuries, encourage helmet use and safer riding among professional and recreational athletes and challenge the snow sports industry to re-evaluate its role and responsibility in propagating risk-taking.

“There’s this energy drink culture now, a high-level, high-risk culture, that’s being marketed and impacting the way people ski,” Robb Gaffney, a sports psychiatrist, said. “That’s what people see and that’s what people think skiing is, but really, that’s the highest level of skiers doing the highest level of tricks.”
While the article seems to say that the increase in brain injuries is somehow related to the increased risks or velocity of the skier, other research shows that helmet use...whether skiing, cycling, etc.,...only protects the skull from lacerations or skull fractures but does not prevent brain injury.  I still use my helmet cycling, if for nothing else than to protect my head from fracture/laceration, but I am not blind to the fact that I am at serious risk for brain trauma despite having a helmet on.  You should be aware of this, too.  Don't be lulled into thinking your brain is safe.

A tune to exit this post, and 2013, with...Linda Ronstadt doing "Desperado", which, like a bunch of her tunes, is one of my favs.  This one goes out to my nephew, Steven Ernest Taft, 1979-2013.  God speed.  You are/were loved and you will be sorely missed.