Motorcycle helmets and spinal injuries: dispelling the myth

Ann Emerg Med. 1994 Apr;23(4):802-6. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(94)70317-5.


Study objective: To determine the relationship between spinal injuries and helmet use in motorcycle trauma.

Design: Retrospective case series.

Setting: Twenty-eight hospitals in four midwestern states--Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin--representing urban, suburban, and rural settings.

Patients and other participants: Consecutive sample of motorcyclists treated at the participating centers.

Interventions: None.

Main outcome measures: The major variables evaluated were helmet use, ethanol use, and significant head or spinal injuries.

Results: 1,153 cases were analyzed. Helmet use was not significantly associated with spinal injuries (odds ratio, 1.12; 95% confidence intervals, 0.79, 1.58) whereas head injury was markedly decreased with helmet use (odds ratio, 0.35; 95% confidence intervals, 0.23, 0.53). Ethanol use was a significant variable in both head (odds ratio, 3.89) and spinal (odds ratio, 2.41) injuries.

Conclusion: In contrast to a significant protective relationship identified for head injuries, helmet use was not associated with an increased or decreased occurrence rate of spinal injuries in motorcycle trauma.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / prevention & control
  • Head Protective Devices / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Midwestern United States
  • Motorcycles*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Injuries / etiology*