By On December 31st, 2013

Michael Schumacher, Formula One Icon, In Coma Following Brain Injury While Skiing

Over the weekend the most successful Formula One racer in history, Michael Schumacher, suffered a traumatic brain injury that has him fighting for his life. While skiing in the French Alpine resort of Meribel with his son on Sunday, Schumacher fell and hit his head on a rock. The fall was enough to shatter the helmet he was wearing.

Schumacher in 2007

Schumacher in 2007
Source: Gunner Richter

He is currently in a medically-induced coma after undergoing two separate surgeries for brain hemorrhage and swelling, but doctors are very cautious about his condition. On Monday night, following the second surgery, Jean-Francois Payen, head of anesthesiology at the University Hospital of Grenoble, told reporters “We cannot say that he is out of danger, but we’ve gained a little time in his development. But the hours to come are hours that are crucial in our strategy.”

The German driver is just the latest and most notable example of a person tragically injured while trying to enjoy the slopes. He still has a fighting chance, as the subject of the recent documentary The Crash Reel Kevin Pearce has shown. But, no-matter the outcome Schumacher is part of the growing body of evidence that the helmets being used by skiers and snowboarders aren’t enough to protect their brains from severe injuries.

Helmets are becoming more and more common on ski slopes around the world, mostly thanks to grassroots campaigns and increased awareness of brain injuries, However, the the number of brain injuries occurring while skiing or snowboarding haven’t gone down. In face, according to some estimates they have gone up.

There is a common misconception that helmets are able to protect the brain from concussions and traumatic brain injuries which has been fed by exaggerated claims from helmet manufacturers. The truth is, even the most advanced helmets are terrible at preventing concussions. But, there is a reason you should still wear one.

While the helmets we have are consistently shown to not be able to meaningfully prevent concussions, they are wonderful for preventing physical skull injuries such as fractures. However, no helmet has been able to stifle the shaking of the skull upon impact which creates a concussion or traumatic brain injury.

It isn’t just helmet technology keeping the number of brain injuries up though. The helmets would often be able to protect the brain from the relatively more minor brain injuries such as a concussion, but skiers are engaging in more and more risky behavior on the slopes, as thrill seekers push themselves to ski faster, jump higher, and explore out of bounds areas of the slopes.

“The equipment we have now allows us to do things we really couldn’t do before, and people’s pushing limits has sort of surpassed people’s ability to control themselves,” Chris Davenport, a professional big-mountain skier, told the New York Times.

Everyone should have an athletic hobby of some sort, whether it is skiing or simply going to the gym, but every physical activity should be undertaken with all the proper safety precautions possible. The thrill of the unknown and reaching new heights can be alluring, but your safety should be a higher priority. We will never be able to stop every serious brain injury, but with more precautions we might have a few less stories like the one unfolding around Michael Schumacher.

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