Between hockey, ski and bicycle helmets, there’s no clear winner when it comes to protecting your head while tobogganing, according to a new study from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute released Friday.
The study, co-authored by CHEO neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Vassilyadi, was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, comparing three types of helmets commonly used by children ages seven and under.
“First of all, it’s important for children to wear helmets while they’re engaging in winter sports and this is something that was identified,” said Vassilyadi.
“The other thing that was identified was that there’s not one particularly good helmet. There are helmets out there which are satisfactory.”
Last year, 21 kids were taken to the emergency department at CHEO for sledding-related injuries. Four of the injuries were serious, ranging from a skull fracture to hemorrhage in the brain, said Vassilyadi.
“The worst type of sleds are the round ones or the tubes because they rotate and as they rotate, they build up a lot of speed,” he said.
In Canada, roughly 2,000 kids are injured each year while sledding, said Harry Zarins, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Canada.
To go down a hill without protective headgear is “like playing Russian roulette, really,” said Zarins. Yet there isn’t a certified winter recreational helmet in Canada.
The study found the hockey helmet is the most protective during lower-velocity impacts of 2-6 metres/second. The bicycle helmet fared best during high-velocity impact of 8 metres/second. Despite its warm lining, the ski helmet had limited effectiveness — something Vassilyadi calls surprising.
“I think the hockey helmet is the one I would recommend because it also has the option of a cage or a facial shield, and most of the kids we do see in emergency have facial injuries as a result of an impact to a tree, to a pole, to a fence,” said Vassilyadi, noting they often wind up with cut lips and broken noses and teeth.
Vassilyadi said he recalls one child dying from tobogganing injuries while another, with a severe head injury, needed a long stay in hospital.
“It happens because there’s a moving body that hits a stationary object, in this case, a tree, and when that happens, I guess the tree wins,” he said.
Financially speaking, “a hockey helmet is probably the least expensive,” said Zarins, adding parents should also wear helmets.
“That is the perfect way to set an example.”