Play it Safe: Basics of Proper Helmet Use

June 8, 2021

If you or your child plays sports or participates in physically risky activities, wearing a helmet could be lifesaving. While no helmet is concussion-proof, wearing one can help reduce the risk of serious head injuries.

"Helmets are made with materials that help reduce impact to the head, protecting the skull from damage," says Jeffrey Kutcher, M.D., a sports neurologist who treats athletes at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology. "You should be wearing a helmet whether you're playing a contact sport or riding something on a hard surface, such as a bike, scooter, skateboard or rollerblades."

Head Injury Prevention 101: Helmet Buying Basics

All helmets are certified at the same level for multi-use recreational activities. So there's no need to search for a specific seal or rating. Instead, when you're purchasing a helmet — or getting one second-hand — focus on these four factors:

How you’ll use it:

Pay attention to the risks involved with the activity you're doing. If you're biking, skiing or snowboarding, for example, you're wearing a helmet in case you get hit, not because you'll get hit.

There are two types of helmets: single-impact and multiple-impact. Single-impact helmets are made with foam materials that break down when hit as part of their force mitigating strategy. These helmets work well for bicycling, skateboarding, skiing or snowboarding. Multiple-impact helmets, such as those designed for sports like football, hockey and lacrosse, can withstand many hits over an entire season. The materials in these helmets don't break down, but rather compress and regain their original form.

"A helmet may perform better in the lab — for example, the dummy brain will experience 98Gs of force instead of 100Gs — but 2Gs of force probably won't make enough of a difference with a one-time injury," Dr. Kutcher says. "But 2Gs less force per hit for a linebacker who suffers multiple blows on a daily basis for many years? That could make a big difference.”

If football is your sport, the National Football League provides a helmet rating system that assesses helmets based on their ability to mitigate force over time.

How it fits:

Helmets fit differently depending on the make, style and type of sport they’re made for. "The key is making sure the helmet covers the entire skull and doesn't move around when in use," Dr. Kutcher says. The helmet should sit on the head without falling forward or backward. If you're relying only on a chinstrap to keep it in place, you don't have the right fit.

How comfortable it is:

Not all helmet brands fit every head. Helmet designs vary just like running shoes do. When you're shopping for a helmet, make sure it's snug, but not tight or uncomfortable. Comfort is critical, especially for kids. "You don't want a child to develop a negative association with wearing a protective helmet," Dr. Kutcher says.

What condition it’s in:

To get the most protection, your helmet should be in top condition. Do not wear a cracked or broken helmet, or one that has been involved in a crash or similar event (unless it's a multiple-impact design). An impact can crush foam materials. And don't allow the helmet to get too hot or cold — that can cause the materials to break down over time.

Get the Best Helmet Fit for Your Head

Properly wearing a helmet provides the greatest defense against injury — more than any style or brand. To make sure your helmet is secure, follow these rules:

· Measure head circumference: Every helmet brand provides a size chart, along with instructions about how to select the best fit. To get the best measurement, use a cloth tape to measure your head circumference. Place the tape about an inch above the eyebrows, keeping it level from front to back. If the measurement falls between sizes, select the smaller size.

· Pay attention to hairstyles: Make sure to try the helmet on with the hairstyle you'll have during the activity. A long-haired bike rider who gets a short haircut may require a helmet adjustment.

· Watch your vision: The helmet should not block your vision. You should be able to see straight ahead and side to side.

To Wear a Helmet or Not To Wear a Helmet: When to Play It Safe

There are several sports that don't require wearing a helmet. But if you or your child is involved in rugby or soccer, or another sport where helmets are optional, that doesn’t mean you're in the clear.

"It's important to base any decision about whether or not to wear a helmet in conjunction with your sports neurologist," notes Dr. Kutcher. "Your past medical history and current health status may still warrant the use of a helmet."

Unsure whether you're at risk of sustaining a head injury? Get a brain health baseline evaluation. Proper consideration of your brain health includes a physical examination, along with a personal and family medical and neurological history. It also offers you an opportunity to learn how to best protect your head.

Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher is a sports neurologist at the Henry Ford Concussion and Sports Neurology Clinic and the global director of the Kutcher Clinic.

Want to learn more? Henry Ford Health System sports medicine experts are treating the whole athlete, in a whole new way. From nutrition to neurology, and from injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, they can give your athlete a unique game plan.

Visit henryford.com/sports or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours.

The Inside Scoop On Ski Safety: 6 Tips

January 10, 2023

Injuries happen to skiers of all levels, even under pristine conditions and when using the best available equipment. “Beginners are more likely to get injured. But when experienced skiers go down, they tend to have more severe injuries,” says Michelle Gambino-Gorney, a certified athletic trainer at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.

Henry Ford Health logoBut you don’t have to let the risk of injury hold you back from having fun on the slopes. A few basic safety tips? Stay within your ability level and ensure your skis are in good condition. That said, going beyond ski safety basics and learning how to avoid injuries can help you stay safe on the slopes. Here are six expert tips: 

Use caution when getting on and off the ski lift. Ski lifts make a lot of people anxious. Being high off the ground on your journey up the mountain can invoke a fear of falling. “But it’s getting on and off the ski lift where the vast majority of lift-related injuries occur,” Gambino-Gorney says. To lower your risk of injury, remove pole straps and backpacks before loading, look over your shoulder to make sure you sit squarely on the seat at the correct time, and don't try to retrieve items you lose hold of (including poles, gloves and phones). It’s best to let them go and ski back for them.

Keep it simple at terrain parks. Terrain parks include human-made features like ramps and rails that enable skiers to do jumps, flips and other maneuvers. Any time your skis leave the ground, injuries are possible. You can safely enjoy terrain parks by starting with smaller obstacles and maneuvers and mastering them before moving on to other challenges. Do not rely on online tutorials to learn new skills. Ski instructors can help you learn the correct technique and provide personalized tips for achieving your goals.

Beware of trees. Trees present multiple dangers. Colliding with a tree, especially at high speed, leads to some of the most severe ski injuries. A small number of skiers die each year from tree collisions. To avoid collisions, ski with control.  Other concerns include tree wells and snow immersion suffocation. This type of injury occurs when a person falls head first into a pocket of loose snow near a tree trunk and gets trapped. Skiing with a partner on ungroomed paths, which typically run past tree wells, is essential. If you become immersed in a tree well, a partner can step in to help you break free. 

Pay extra attention during your final run of the day. Injuries are more common during skiers’ last runs. “Skiing later in the day can be dangerous because small changes can affect your ability to maneuver and react to conditions,” Gambino-Gorney says. Fresh powder may get matted down. Groomed areas become bumpy. And fatigue can make you less aware of hazards and other skiers. While it may be tempting to give it your all on your last run, it’s better to ease up and take your time.

Follow the Skier Code of Responsibility. People of all ages, abilities and ski levels can safely share the slopes when everyone follows the National Ski Area Association™ Responsibility Code. Key points include: Giving right of way to people ahead of (downhill from) you, staying off closed trails, and looking uphill for other skiers when merging.

Expedite access to help in an emergency. Being prepared can help you quickly reach ski patrol in an emergency. Most ski areas list their ski patrol phone number near the lifts. While you are waiting in the ski lift line, program it into your phone. If you or someone nearby experiences an injury, being able to call for help will save precious time. Instead of waiting for someone to ski down the mountain and ask for help, you can stay with the injured person and call for help. Calling also makes it easier to share important details so that ski patrol arrives with the appropriate people and equipment.

“Skiing is like any sport in that there’s a risk of injury. But many people hit the slopes without incident. Some skiers go decades without a single fall,” Gambino-Gorney says. Follow these insider tips and don't forget to wear a helmet so you can relish your next powder day and get the most out of the season.

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/sports or call 313-651-1969.

Michelle Gambino-Gorney is a certified athletic trainer at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.