Kiwis using helmets wrong, overestimate how much protection they're getting - study

Most Kiwis wrongly think a helmet will protect them against concussion, a new survey has found. 

Researchers are concerned they might not be seeking medical treatment after an accident involving a blow to the head, thinking their helmet will protect them. 

AUT and ACC surveyed 1500 Kiwis involved in equestrian sports and rodeo, more than 40 percent of whom had experienced a concussion at some point. Only 17 percent - about one in six - knew that helmets don't prevent concussions.

"A concussion happens because the brain moves within the skull, that movement is actually what causes the concussion," study leader and psychologist Prof Alice Theadom of AUT told Newshub.

"It's very hard for a helmet which sits on the outside of your head to actually prevent that concussion from occurring."

But don't go riding without a helmet - they're still important for preventing other injuries, such as skull fractures by absorbing the force of the blow. 

Rider Bayley Moor was not wearing a helmet when she was kicked in the head by her horse four months ago, suffering a concussion.

"If I had been, my injuries would have been a lot less severe and I wouldn't still be recovering from the injury today... I didn't think the accident's impacts would last this long." 

She said like many people, she only used to wear her helmet when she was getting on the horse - but now thinks they should be mandatory whenever you're around the unpredictable animals.

"We spend probably more time on the ground with them than we do riding, so I think it's something that should become part of our normal practise." 

Different sports have different guidelines around how long to abstain from sports after suffering a blow to the head, which need to be streamlined said  Prof Theadom.

"Some say to stand down for two weeks, some say wait until your symptoms are resolved, some say wait three weeks. There are different procedures for them to follow." 

And helmets often aren't tested to withstand the kinds of blows users are likely to suffer in their chosen activities. Helmets for equestrian, for example, are tested with strikes to the top - but as Moor discovered, that's not always where the impact comes from.

"The testing that's being done isn't necessarily testing the helmet in terms of how they are able to help prevent concussion or reduce the severity of the concussion," said Prof Theadom.

And half the participants in the study reported continuing to wear helmets after an accident instead of getting a new one. 

"Education related to equestrian activities, such as helmet use, injury mechanisms, and learning to fall, is needed to change behaviour and minimise the risk of injury."

The study was published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.