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Going Sledding? Be Sure to Grab a Helmet

Dr. Matt Severson talks about the importance of wearing a helmet while sledding in a KMSP-TV interview.

After a fresh snow, many kids and parents alike, can’t wait to grab a sled and head to the hill. Before taking off, however, Gillette experts say you should grab another item: a helmet. Wearing a helmet could protect you from a nasty bump all the way up to a paralyzing traumatic brain injury.  

You can reach speeds of up to 20 miles an hour when you’re going down the hill. Experts say our personal understanding of speed can be inconsistent based upon the vehicle or setting in question. For instance, 20 miles per hour in a car feels like crawling. While that same speed on a bike or a sled, feels like flying. 

About 20,000 people end up in emergency rooms across the United States each year due to sledding accidents each year, according to a study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.  

At Gillette Children’s when kids are injured, they are often transferred to our PICU or inpatient rehabilitation unit from Regions Hospital via our partnership as a Level I Pediatric Trauma Center. It can be a long road to recovery, said Matt Severson, MD, a Gillette physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. 

Nearly as important as wearing a helmet is choosing the correct type of helmet, Severson said. When shopping, make sure to look for a winter sports helmet.  

Five keys to a safe winter sports helmet: 

  1. Give it a Tug: Snow sport helmets should fit snugly. If there is space between the head and the inside of the helmet – it is not offering the protection needed. When a properly fitted helmet is pulled up, the forehead moves with it.  
  2. Keep it Smooth: Snow sport helmets are designed to slide on the snow. This helps slow down the forces of an impact. Extra edges can catch on the snow causing harm to the head and neck. Therefore, adding anything extra to a helmet may increase risk of injury. 
  3. Hang the Hat: Snow sport helmets keep heads warm. No extra hat is needed. In fact, adding a hat introduces more padding that can compress during an impact, allowing for extra movement and potential for injury. 
  4. Avoid the Gap:  Goggles are important because they offer eye and skin protection. There should be no gap between the helmet and goggle. 
  5. Replace It: In most cases, snow sport helmets are designed to withstand one impact. After an impact, the hard shell may look as good as new, but the energy absorbing foam underneath is damaged, and therefore, won’t offer the same level of protection for the next impact. Additionally, helmets should be purchased new if the history of a used helmet is unknown. 

In addition, a common bike helmet could do more damage than good – it won’t keep your head warm, and you won’t be able to get the helmet tight enough if you wear a hat underneath it. Also, the holes in the bike helmet could catch debris on the hole and twist a sledder's head or neck on a run down the hill. 

You can learn more about sledding safety via KMSP-TV and WCCO-TV media stories featuring Dr. Severson and a Gillette Children’s patient who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a sledding accident.