People choose to bike for a variety of reasons. Biking provides an alternative, more affordable mode of transportation, a great way to get healthy exercise, can relieve traffic congestion, reduce pollution and increase the livability of a community. Whether you bike to work or for recreation, wearing a helmet and obeying traffic laws can help greatly reduce the risk of bicycle related injuries and fatalities.
“I see a lot of bike related injuries come through the ER, especially since Ames is a college town,” says McFarland Clinic Emergency Room physician, Jonathan Burns, DO. “Injuries can range from traumatic scrapes, lacerations and abrasions that can be very painful to clean up to head injuries,” adds Dr. Burns.
Each year more than 500,000 people in the US are treated in emergency departments, with more than 700 people that die due to bicycle-related injuries (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Of the bike related injuries treated, the most serious are head injuries, like concussions and skull fractures, and extremity injuries such as broken collarbones. The more we learn about concussions, the more we have realized they aren’t as benign as we once thought. A concussion can lead to many other problems and be very expensive to treat.
Education can be a powerful tool in changing behavior and improving safety. I see a lot of injuries that are preventable, says Dr. Burns, following the rules of the road and wearing a helmet can help prevent injuries from happening. The bike shops in town are great at helping select a helmet that fits correctly and is appropriate for your needs.
According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by 85% and severe brain injury by 88%.
“Everyone should wear a helmet all the time – even on short trips,” says Dr. Burns, “slow speed injuries can have worse outcomes for children and older adults. Set an example for your children by wearing a helmet when you ride your bike.”
It is important to seek medical help after an accident if there was a loss of consciousness, the person seems confused, is vomiting persistently or if they can’t pass the mom and dad test, meaning they just don’t look right.
Construction of a bike helmet must pass the requirements created by the US Consumer Product Safety Act. All helmets undergo rigorous testing to be approved for sale. A helmet contains three parts: liners, cage and straps. The liner is made of high impact foam that offers a crush zone. The cage and liner protects from direct impact and prevents the helmet from splitting.
“Helmets are good for one impact only,” says Dr. Burns. “If you have fallen or been in a crash the integrity of the foam is compromised. Be sure to replace your helmet.”
Learn more about the McFarland Clinic Emergency Medicine Department located at the Mary Greely Medical Center. If you are experiencing an emergency, dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
To learn more about head injuries, bike injury statistics and related topics, check out the following learning centers and articles on our online health library: