Can I Suffer a Traumatic Brain Injury while Wearing a Bike Helmet?

In recent years, the NFL has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle thousands of player lawsuits, drawing national attention to the link between football and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Yet bicycling accidents lead to many more TBIs each year than any other sport, including football, basketball, soccer and hockey.  

Studies have shown that wearing a helmet while biking can significantly reduce the severity of TBIs when accidents occur by as much as 88%.  However, in a troubling development, the rate of head injuries per active cyclist has increased by 51%, even as helmet use has risen sharply.  

Experts have suggested a number of reasons why the number of TBIs among cyclists continues to increase.  Peter Ubel, a physician and behavioral scientist at Duke University, believes that helmets create a false sense of security, making riders feel impervious to injury and more likely to take unnecessary risks. Additionally,  helmets alone cannot fully protect the brain against oblique impacts, when the head is hit at an angle.  As Steve Broglio, director of the NeuroTrauma Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan, explains: “While traditional bike helmets generally do a good job of protecting our skulls, they do little to lessen the rotational forces in a crash that are responsible for brain injuries.”

How do I Know If I Have Experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury?  

There are four common categories of symptoms to look for: 

Thinking/
Remembering
PhysicalEmotional/
Mood
Sleep
Difficulty thinking clearlyHeadacheFuzzy or blurry visionIrritabilitySleeping more than usual
Feeling slowed downNausea or vomiting(early on)

Dizziness

SadnessSleeping less than usual
Difficulty concentratingSensitivity to noise or lightBalance problemsMore emotionalTrouble falling asleep
Difficulty remembering new informationFeeling tired, having no energyNervousness or anxiety

Common Symptoms of a Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

Concussions are “mild” TBIs that can be caused by even low impact blows to the head.  Recent research has shown that concussions can have a significant impact on memory and thinking skills, even when the apparently mild concussion went unreported and did not appear to require treatment.  Some of these symptoms may appear immediately, though others may not be noticed for weeks or months.

Which Types of Bicycle Accidents Lead to Traumatic Brain Injuries?  

According to the NIH, collisions with motor vehicles are most likely to lead to severe TBIs, leading to serious or fatal injuries to bicyclists in over 18% of crashes. Over 75% of collisions with motor vehicles occur at intersections, driveways and other junctions, where motorists and bicyclists failed to yield. Not surprisingly, crashes are more likely to occur in the evening when there is poor visibility, and on roads with higher speed limits and narrower lanes.

Among children, the majority of TBIs involve 10 to 14-year-olds (46%) and boys (72%). This group is particularly vulnerable to bicycle accidents, as they are not always aware of their surroundings and how fast they are riding.  

What Can I Do to Prevent a Traumatic Brain Injury while Biking?

Although they cannot guarantee your safety, “wearing a helmet while riding a bike is the best way to decrease the risk of serious injuries,” according to Dr. Lara McKenzie, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy.  It may be helpful to use a helmet that includes a Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) foam liner.  

What Should I Do If I Have Suffered a Head Injury while Biking?

If you have suffered a head injury while biking, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention, particularly if any of these warning signs occur:

  • A headache worsens or does not go away
  • Slurred speech, weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
  • Significant nausea or repeated vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inability to wake up
  • Symptoms have worsened at any time
  • Symptoms have not gone away after 10-14 days
  • A history of multiple concussions

 

Concussions are microscopic in nature and difficult to detect, and they often present normally on neuroimaging. Consequently, it is important to discuss all symptoms with a doctor, who can better diagnose symptoms of TBIs.

If you have suffered a TBI, and believe that the injury was caused by the negligence of others, you should speak with a brain injury attorney about your options, as you may be eligible to seek compensation for your injuries.

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