NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries among skiers and snowboarders by 35 percent, according to a Canadian study.
Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and serious injury among skiers and snowboarders with the issue hitting the headlines last March when actress Natasha Richardson, 45, died from a brain injury after falling while skiing at Canada's Mont Tremblant resort.
Researchers from the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary found no evidence that wearing a helmet increased the risk of neck injury in a crash or fall, particularly in children because of their greater head to body ratio.
But the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said estimates from numerous countries indicate that head injuries account for up to 19 percent and neck injuries up to four percent of all injuries reported by ski patrols and emergency departments.
"Risks of head injury can be reduced by 35 percent ... and between two and five of every 10 head injuries among helmet users could be prevented," researcher Brent Hagel said in the report.
"The use of helmets significantly protects against head injuries among skiers and snowboarders."
He said the study was an analysis of 12 studies conducted in Europe, Asia, and North America. The researchers were unable to determine the design, quality, or fit of the helmets.
The study did suggest that helmets had a greater protective effect among male skiers or boarders than female and among skiers and snowboarders of a lower level.
The researchers said there was also mixed evidence when looking at the idea that wearing helmets provided a false sense of security which could let to more aggressive and dangerous behavior.
"Our work suggests no relation between helmet use and severity of injury or crash circumstances -- non-helmet equipment damage, fast self reported speed, participation in more difficult runs than normal, or jumping-related injury -- after adjustment for confounding variables," they wrote.
"Based on this evidence, we encourage helmet use," concluded the researchers, adding that more research was needed to determine which types of helmets offered best protection.
(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Patricia Reaney)