Monday Medical: Doctor’s orders: Wear your helmet

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series. Part 2 focuses on bike safety.

Biking and other wheeled sports can be risky. But there’s one small piece of gear that can significantly decrease your chances of suffering from a serious head injury: a helmet.

“Hitting your head, even one time, can cause a brain injury that may increase your risk for headaches and issues with sleep, learning and balance,” said Dr. Michelle Jimerson, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “There can be a lot of long-term consequences.”

By the numbers

Helmets make a difference: Studies have shown that if you’re in a bike accident, wearing a helmet can decrease your risk of brain injury by nearly 80%.

Each year, more than 500,000 Americans are treated in emergency departments for injuries related to biking. About 700 will die from these injuries, but three-quarters of those fatalities would be avoided if the rider had been wearing a helmet.

And, each year, about 26,000 children end up in emergency departments for a traumatic brain injury resulting from bicycling.

“These aren’t little numbers — this is a big deal,” Jimerson said.

Helmets are effective for all age groups, including young children and adults, and also provide protection if a cyclist is hit by a motor vehicle.

And helmets provide protection from facial damage and scarring that can result from a fall.

Who should wear a helmet?

No matter your age, if you’re riding a bike, a skateboard or a scooter — anything with wheels — you should have a helmet on.

“Even if you’re just going down the sidewalk or street, if you weigh the risks and benefits, there’s no harm of wearing a helmet, only benefit,” Jimerson said.

Jimerson also points out that it’s important for parents to not only make sure their kids wear a helmet but to wear a helmet themselves.

“As parents, we want to provide a good example for our children,” Jimerson said. “And crazy things happen — it’s not like you have to be going fast to fall off your bike. A squirrel could dart in front of you, or you could be looking at your kid and run into something.”

What should I do if I fall?

If you fall off your bike and hit your head, it’s a good idea to reach out to your health care provider.

“Even a mild concussion can have atypical or delayed symptoms,” Jimerson said. “If you fall and hit your head and are having any sort of symptoms related to hitting your head, including headache, dizziness, increased fatigue, vision issues or neck pain, you should be evaluated.”

With significant injuries, concerns or symptoms, such as severe headache, nausea and vomiting, seek help immediately.

Where can I get a helmet?

Your local bike and sporting goods stores are great resources for helmets. If cost is an issue, some online programs offer free or discounted helmets.

Be sure your helmet fits properly and is in good condition. Helmets should be replaced every five to 10 years and after any crash in which you hit your head.

And once you have your helmet, don’t forget the most important step: Wear it.

“People do lots of things to keep themselves safe, such as wearing seatbelts, going to the doctor, wearing sunscreen, getting their colonoscopy — helmets should be a standard, too,” Jimerson said. “A fall can happen to anyone at any time. If you have a helmet, put it on your head.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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