When it comes to helmets it’s not a matter of one size fits all. There are a whole range of different helmets of different sizes on the market and not all of them are suitable for the same activity. In this post I share some basic facts about helmets and offer advice on how to go about choosing the correct fit.
DO HELMETS PROTECT AGAINST CONCUSSION?
First off I want to say that it is absolutely crucial your child wears a helmet when on wheels. Helmets can reduce the risk of severe head injury in the event of a fall because they help absorb the impact energy instead of the head and brain. However, no helmet has been proven to reduce or prevent concussions.
A severe blow to the head will either cause the brain to move back and forth or twist and rotate. A helmet is designed to protect against the back and forth movement and reduce the risk of skull fractures and bleeding inside the skull. They are unfortunately not very effective against rotational movements, which is believed to be the cause of a concussion. These rotational movements happen when the head is hit at an angle… think boxing.
NOT ALL HELMETS ARE THE SAME
There are different helmets for different activities and sports. Each type of helmet is designed to protect the head from the kind of impacts that are usually associated with that particular activity. Skater helmets for example, are more round and cover the back of the head. This is because skateboarders are more likely to land on the back of their heads compared to people who fall off their bicycles. Helmets for younger children also tend to be deeper at the back to offer better protection of the back of the head. Always make sure you are buying the right helmet for the job.
SAFETY TRUMPS STYLE
When choosing a helmet do not shop by colour or style. Avoid helmets that have unnecessary features such as Mohawks and horns and do not add any accessories to your helmet either. These only affect the overall performance and will interfere with energy dispersion and absorption during a crash.
Also make sure that the helmet you choose complies with the relevant safety standards.
CHOOSING THE CORRECT FIT
Children’s helmet sizes are broken down into toddler, child and youth, but the sizing really depends on your child’s head circumference. Your child may be two years old but his or her head may be too big for a toddler helmet. Before you go out and buy a helmet, measure the circumference about 2.5 cms above the eyebrows. This should be the widest part of their head.
In addition to the helmet size, helmets are usually also adjustable to ensure a proper fit. Helmets may have an internal plastic cage that conforms to most head shapes and sizes. These cages are usually adjusted by turning a dial at the back of the helmet. Other helmets offer different pads of varying thickness, which need to be added inside to ensure a snug fit. Helmets also have chin and side straps that offer extra support in keeping the helmet firmly on the head.
Despite these extra features that help you to achieve a snug fit, you still need to ensure you have the correct helmet size because these adjustments are limited. It’s a good idea to take your child with you when shopping for a helmet to make sure you choose correctly. If a helmet does not fit properly it can fall off, backwards and even forwards, obstructing your child’s vision. It will also reduce the helmet’s ability to offer any protection of the head during a crash.
Easy steps for a perfect fit:
- The front edge of the helmet must be about two finger widths above the eyebrows.
- The helmet must be snug. If it slides around adjust the inner cage or pads and the side and chin straps.
- The back and front straps of the side straps should form a V and meet just BELOW the ear.
- The front straps of the side straps must be vertical and in front of the ear.
- The back straps of the side straps should be more horizontal and behind the ear.
- The chin strap should be snug. You should only be able to fit one finger between the strap.
WHEN SHOULD YOUR CHILD NOT WEAR A HELMET?
Your child does not need to wear a helmet to play on a jungle gym. This can actually be very dangerous because the straps can get caught and pose a risk of strangulation. Similarly, your child could get trapped in an opening because their head is too big to fit through.
WHEN DO YOU NEED TO REPLACE A HELMET?
- When your child’s head has outgrown the helmet size:
Remember to inspect the helmets fit regularly as your child’s head continues to grow. Once it becomes too small it needs to be replaced.
- When the helmet has been involved in a crash:
This will depend on the impact and whether or not the helmet can withstand more than one fall. Bicycle helmets are designed to protect against one fall because the inner foam layer actually becomes crushed as it absorbs the impact energy. So even if the outer hard shell looks ok you will still need to replace it.
Skater helmets can usually withstand multiple impacts but you will still need to inspect the helmet thoroughly after a fall. If there are any cracks or dents it needs to be replaced. You should be able to find more information on this in the helmet’s instruction manual.
- When the helmet has been damaged:
If the helmet has been dropped onto a hard surface it can be damaged in the same way as if it were involved in a crash.
- When the helmet is too old:
Depending on general wear and tear and also how you care for your helmet, you need to replace a helmet every 5-10 years depending on what the manufacturer states.