Can a Full Face Bike Helmet Break Your Neck?

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You may be thinking about getting into downhill or enduro riding and you have probably seen riders wearing full-face helmets similar to motorcycle helmets. Now, you’ve heard from someone that wearing a full-face helmet is bad and can actually break your neck. But is this true? This article will provide you with all the information you need regarding this topic.

There is the possibility of breaking or injuring your neck if you fall badly off a mountain bike. However, this is not caused by a full-face helmet, but rather this is due to hyperflexion or hyperextension of the neck during a fall. In fact, research has shown that a full-face helmet decreases the chances of a neck injury. You could also opt for further protection by using something called a neck brace which diverts the forces of an impact away from the neck.

Neck Injury Statistics

Other than freedom, comfort, and style, one of the reasons why some people do not wear full-face helmets is because of the misconception that such a helmet is likely to cause a neck injury which may lead to paralysis. However, this idea has been refuted by a study conducted by the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The study looked at the records of patients treated at the University Hospital’s Level-1 trauma center due to motorcycle crashes over a 5-year period. Even though this study was for motorcycle helmets, it is reasonable to expect similar results for full-face mountain bike helmets.

Because Wisconsin law does not require motorcycle riders to wear helmets, 69.6% of the patients were not wearing helmets while only 30.4% were wearing a helmet. However, the data showed that riders were around twice as likely to suffer an injury to the cervical spine (aka, the neck) without wearing a helmet than by wearing one – 15.4% of riders without helmets had a neck injury compared to 7.4% of helmeted riders. Additionally, neck fractures and ligament injuries were also more common in unhelmeted riders. Therefore, it is always better to wear a helmet than not.

How to prevent neck injuries on downhill/enduro rides

Enduro and downhill riding are the most extreme forms of mountain biking. Therefore, the risk of injuring oneself is relatively high. If you do not want to get paralyzed, there are a few steps that you should take to avoid any injury to the neck.

1. Wear a full-face helmet

As we have already shown, wearing a full-face helmet does not break your neck. In fact, wearing one can reduce the chances of a neck injury. Even though most enduro and downhill riders already wear helmets, some do not. This point is for those particular people.

➥ Here, you will get to know the differences between full face & open face bike helmets

Full face helmet

Full face helmet

2. Use a neck brace

If you want maximum protection for your neck, then you might want to get a neck brace. Neck braces for MTB/motorcycle riding were invented by Dr. Chris Leatt in the early 2000s. This is an item that is worn around the neck and sits under the full-face helmet. A neck brace limits the motion of the neck during a crash which is the main cause of injury. The forces of the impact are instead transferred to other parts of the body. This is usually the shoulders or the chest.

Neck brace

Neck brace

While a neck brace will not prevent injury entirely – certainly not if you land directly on your head – it will minimize damage to the neck. You might break your collarbone and have to take a few weeks off. But that is still better than becoming permanently paralyzed.

Read more: Is a full-face MTB helmet safer?

3. Know how to fall

Knowing the proper way to fall during a crash is probably the best way to avoid breaking your neck. We instinctively put our hands out to brace for a fall. However, at high enough speeds, this can lead to a broken wrist, clavicle, or elbow. The best technique for falling is to tuck your arms in and shoulder roll into the fall. This is also known as the tuck-and-roll-method. Also, try not to tense up right before the fall and rather let your body go limp. In reality, these steps are hard to follow due to our natural reflexes. Just keep them in mind and make sure to practice them on less serious falls.

4. Maintain discipline and carefulness

If you want to get better at any sport, you obviously have to have some discipline. For gravity riding, proper discipline can mean the difference between having a serious accident and completing a track. Just by staying focused and not taking unnecessary risks, the chances of a crash go down a lot. One moment of losing concentration can become quite costly. This advice is especially for amateur riders.

Other necessary safety equipment

Besides wearing a full-face helmet and, if you want, a neck brace, there are a few other pieces of gear that you should be equipped with for downhill and enduro riding. These include:-

  1. Goggles: There will likely be a lot of dirt or mud flying about on the trail. Goggles shield your eyes and part of your face from these so that you can pedal unhindered. Make sure that they have UV protection for hot, sunny climates.
  2. Gloves: A suitable pair of gloves enhance your grip on the handlebars and improves your control of the bike. They also help to protect your hands against sticks and stones during a fall.
  3. Armor: The knees and elbows are also parts of the body that are prone to injury. Hence, it’s a good idea to wear elbow and knee pads. There is also body armor available, but these can be too bulky for some.
  4. Mountain bike shoes: Be sure to wear shoes that are specially designed for mountain biking instead of your regular sneakers. MTB shoes will improve your performance, have the ideal tread pattern for off-road use, and protect your feet due to the sturdy build.
MTB gear

MTB gear

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Should I wear a full-face helmet for mountain biking?

Ans.: The answer depends on what type of mountain biking you usually do. For cross-country or trail riding, a regular mountain bike helmet is enough. Full face helmets are very hot and heavy, and hence, they would be too uncomfortable for most forms of mountain biking. However, you should wear full-face helmets for gravity riding, downhill races, and enduro. These riding styles are a lot more hazardous and there is always a chance of being flung forward into the ground, requiring face and chin protection.

Q2. Does a neck brace increase the risk of a broken collarbone?

Ans.: According to Dr. Chris Leatt, the inventor of the Leatt neck brace, the likelihood of a broken collarbone is actually less with a neck brace on. Sure the brace transfers the forces on your upper chest and shoulder area, however, the forces are distributed over a larger area. This reduces the pressure exerted and does not break the collarbone. The neck brace has been tested rigorously and the results seem to indicate this. There is always the possibility of a broken collarbone, but the chances are lower.

Q3. Should I wear a neck brace while riding a motorcycle as well?

Ans.: Riding on a motorcycle means going at faster speeds. This translates to larger forces experienced during a crash compared to on a mountain bike. Therefore, it would be easier to injure your neck after falling off a motorcycle. In this case, wearing a neck brace definitely does not hurt. Neck braces are not a must-have, as many professional dirt riders do not wear them either. It’s completely up to you whether you want the extra protection at the cost of comfort or not.

Conclusion

If you’ve heard from anyone that a full-face helmet can break your neck, disregard it. You should now have all the facts you need to prove them wrong. Be sure to educate other downhill riders who have similar doubts as you might be saving their lives by convincing them to wear a helmet. Hopefully, this article will come in handy.

My name is Dion Lewis. I’ve been cycling since my childhood. When I was in high school, I started racing in our local competitions. In my college life, I took a part-time job in a bicycle shop and I learned how to repair and maintain bicycles professionally. Though I love racing, mountain biking is another thing I do frequently. My friends, neighbors, and colleagues treat me as an avid rider and take my suggestions while they plan for a new bike or bike gear.

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