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Posts tagged ‘David Figurski Ph.D’

So, Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . . . Do Motorcycle Helmets Protect the Brain?

So, Whaddya Think?

Do Motorcycle Helmets Protect the Brain?


David H. Figurski, Ph.D

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

David H. Figurski, Ph.D. survivor of brain injury

Whether or not motorcycle helmets reduce head injuries is a topic that is highly controversial. Witness the fact that some states have motorcycle helmet laws while others don’t.

Clearly, helmets do not prevent all brain injuries. Former National Football League lineman George Visger (San Francisco 49ers), who’s a survivor of a football-induced brain injury, worries about the false sense of security that helmets can engender.  (Listen to minutes 12:00-14:00 of Donna’s August 16, 2015, interview of him.)

On the positive side, many people believe motorcycle helmets can reduce minor head injuries and thereby mitigate or even prevent some brain injuries. I am staunchly pro-helmet in my viewpoint, but I am also realistic about how protective a helmet actually is. Recently, I encountered someone who is an adamant proponent of the anti-helmet viewpoint. Here’s what happened.

Donna and I recently attended a lecture by Carrie Collins-Fadell, Executive Director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ), on the basics of brain injury and the work of the organization. At one point, I asked Carrie if BIAAZ had an official position on motorcycle helmet laws. (Arizona currently has no such law.) Given the current debate, her unsurprising answer was that it does not.

I’m a firm believer in helmets because one saved my face and possibly prevented a serious brain injury. I loved my bike, and, like most riders feel about their riding ability, I considered myself to be competent, alert, and safety-conscious. But, my bike was totaled in an accident that was not my fault.Vehicules-Moto-476361

As I rounded a bend in the Catskill Mountains of southern New York one Sunday morning, I encountered a massive oil spill that was left on the road by an emergency car repair. My tires lost their grip, my bike and I went down, and my bike ended up underneath on oncoming car. Fortunately, I was thrown from my bike and ended up down the road. (The hysterical driver thought I was still with my bike underneath her car.)

The point of this story is that I was wearing the best full-face helmet I could buy. I hit face-first. I know that because the chin-bar on my helmet was ground down from the road. Because of that helmet, I was able to walk away – although with some road-rash. I hate to think what would have happened to me if I had not been wearing that helmet.

CoolClips_vc040139I told Carrie that I was in favor of helmet laws. But, another member of the audience took issue with me and presented the opposing view. “The only reason I would wear a helmet is if a law required me to.” We had a short discussion about our opposing beliefs. There are valid arguments for both opinions, and I know much more could have been said. But, I was mindful of the time, and I suspected Carrie was eager to get back to her talk. (I know Donna was happy I ended quickly!)

Both of us made valid points. I’d like to address comments that were stated and what could have been said.

The audience-member argued that a helmet adds possibly dangerous weight to a rider’s head. This is a valid point.

Helmets can add up to 5 pounds to the head, and that extra weight can endanger the neck, with consequences for the brain and/or spine. (Professional race-drivers are well aware of this danger. I raced cars at the amateur level, and, again, I considered myself to be safety-conscious, although Donna thought that racing cars at all was a strange way to show it! Nevertheless, I was the first driver in the group to use a HANS device – a carbon-fiber collar that’s held tight by the safety harness. The point is that the weight of the head and helmet is somewhat counteracted by tethering the helmet to the device. There is evidence showing that the reduction in the number and/or force of head impacts by a HANS device is protective.)dk163

The audience-member also argued that a full-face helmet cuts down on peripheral vision.  I completely agree that good peripheral vision is really important for safe riding. I adamantly disagreed with the statement, however, that a full-face helmet interferes with peripheral vision, but I didn’t take the time to give my reasons for believing that way.

It’s true that old full-face helmets have small eye-ports and restrict peripheral vision. But, many modern full-face helmets have wide eye-ports so peripheral vision is not restricted. That was a consideration when I purchased my helmets for motorcycling and car racing.

Another point the audience-member made was that a helmet does nothing to protect the brain in a serious accident and, as was noted above, may make neck injury more likely. I agree that helmets are not protective in a major accident. I know of a rider who was killed while wearing a good helmet.

A helmet will not protect the brain in a catastrophic accident, but a helmet might reduce the severity of a brain injury in a minor accident. A slight impact of the head in a highly-cushioned helmet may lead to no brain injury at all or to a less severe brain injury. But, a slight impact of a helmetless head could lead to a serious brain injury or even be fatal.incident-clipart-accident

The audience-member also mentioned that he’s been riding 40 years without a helmet. I congratulate him for the accomplishment of never having had a serious accident. I too thought I would ride my bike for many years. But, unexpected things happen. One such incident happened to me. It’s why some of us wear safety gear.

The audience-member and I ended by agreeing on a point. We both understand that, during a serious impact, no helmet can protect the jelly-like brain, which exists inside a hard skull.

I understand there is considerable joy in riding totally free and unencumbered. Motorcycles are about freedom, and the principle of individual freedom is paramo61463unt for some people. Those of us who wear safety gear are concerned with the significant risk of riding with the lack of precautions. We still experience the feeling of the impressive freedom that comes from riding a motorcycle – just a bit less.


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So Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . Children’s Brains at Risk

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this TBI world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 1,000 words. Send to donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.com

I hope to HEAR from you soon.

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4Children’s Brains at Risk

Donna O’Donnell Figurski
David Figurski

Parents, coaches, and other adults are inadvertently exposing many children to grave harm. There are two major reasons: (1) a lack of awareness of the fragility of the brain and (2) ignorance of the life-altering changes that come from a brain injury. As parents and children learn about the risks, some children have elected not to play certain sports (SPEAK OUT! NewsBit: To Play or NOT to Play, May 23, 2014).

There are many very good reasons for young people to play sports, including raising self-esteem, being part of a team, learning responsibility, and understanding competitiveness. But, studies are showing that some sports have a real possibility of danger associated with them.

One of us (Donna) taught first and third grades and coached a soccer team of 6- to 8-year-olds. We know how trusting young people are of adults. No adult would willingly put a young child or teenager in danger, but most are ignorant of the potential consequences of a brain injury. Only now are we beginning to understand how easy it is to injure the brain and just how dire the result can be. There is a desperate need to speak out to educate other adults of what we know.

A great deal of research is going on, but our knowledge of the brain is just beginning. Our hope is that there will not only be better treatments and therapy, but also that steps can be taken to greatly lessen the possibility of brain injury in the first place.

The danger is very real. A 1999 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association examined mild TBIs in 10 high-school sports over 3 years. Over 1200 concussions were documented. Football, by far, was responsible for the highest percentage of concussions. The percentage of concussions caused by playing football was almost double the percentage of concussions from the remaining sports combined. A recent study showed that playing football, even without a concussion, may affect behavior and brain structure (SPEAK OUT! NewsBit: Football – Is It Dangerous to Your Brain? May 23, 2014). Keep in mind that players often do not report symptoms for fear of not being allowed to continue to play (video). In addition, having another concussion without recovering from the first can be deadly.

Heading in soccer is the primary cause of concussions in that sport. The percentage of soccer-caused concussions ranks #3 in boys’ sports and #1 in girls’ sports. Changes are beginning to happen with the new knowledge. A Connecticut youth soccer league has made heading illegal.

Just how ignorant of brain injury is the medical profession has already become apparent in the interviews. It’s common for a brain-injured patient to be treated for all other wounds, but little thought is given to the brain. Only later is the brain injury recognized as the basis for some of the symptoms. We were taken by Tabbie’s statement (Survivors SPEAK OUT! Tabbie, May 25, 2014) that a doctor assured her that it was not possible to get a concussion from a volleyball. Meanwhile, 0.5% of concussions were found to occur from volleyball in the 1999 JAMA study. Although volleyball ranked 10th, it did register. Ask Tabbie if it’s possible to have a brain injury from volleyball.

For motivation, we recommend watching the documentary Head Games, which is available online. Here is the trailer and the description. No one wants to put children at risk. There is no doubt the consequences of brain injury can be severe (Video Part 1 and Video Part 2), but there needs to be more awareness of the danger and consequences.

What can be done? In the short term, (1) we can speak out to make more people aware of brain injury. (2) We can promote the re-examination of rules and, where safety is concerned, lobby for their change. A Connecticut soccer league is already doing this by banning heading in soccer. As another example, if a football player uses his helmet to “spear” another player, maybe he should be ejected from the game. (3) No one should tolerate a violent act to win. Who promoted the idea that it was acceptable for a player of the opposing team to take Tabbie out of the game? There is no place for winning-at-all-costs. In the long term, there needs to be better equipment for the safety of players. This will take research. Legislation of rule changes will cause everyone to be protected. Nebraska’s legislature has already made laws for youth sports.

Our youth look to us. Let’s not fail them.

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