Unfortunately, head injuries can happen to just about anyone who rides a bike. Whether you’re in a race, on the trail or out on a leisurely weekend ride, assessing the condition of your head and brain following a bicycle accident should be priority number 1.
Learn how to diagnose the signs and symptoms of a concussion following a bike accident and what you need to do before you get back out on the road.
IDENTIFYING A CONCUSSION
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines concussions as “a traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.” Trauma to the brain then causes changes in the chemistry of the brain, often causing damage to brain cells.
For cyclists, a concussion can occur anytime the head comes into contact with the ground, but may also result during any other accident when the head is jarred suddenly from side to side — whether the head suffers an impact or not. A side impact from a vehicle when the body takes the majority of the trauma is one example of how a concussion can occur without taking a direct blow.
If you’re unsure if you or someone you’re riding with may have suffered a concussion, check for these common concussion symptoms:
- Loss of consciousness
- Headache or pressure in the head
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
WHAT TO DO AFTER AN ACCIDENT
Following any type of serious accident, getting back on the bike should be avoided. While this might be common in the professional peloton, even a minor head injury needs medical attention to assess orientation, memory, concentration and other aspects of overall cognitive function. Contact a medical provider immediately when possible.
You’ll also want to avoid operating any other type of vehicle or taking any medication for headaches, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, before you’ve seen a medical provider. If you are riding with someone who suffers a head injury and loses consciousness, here are a few precautions to take to ensure their safety until emergency medical services arrive:
- Don’t move the injured person or leave them unattended.
- Keep the helmet on and the head still to avoid further injury.
- Take note of your location details to help EMS arrive faster.
- Administer any first-aid treatment you feel comfortable with, including applying pressure to lacerations.
- Be aware of common concussion symptoms and try not to overreact, which can cause panic and anxiety in the injured person.
- Keep the person as calm as possible and answer any questions they may have calmly.
Since judgment can also be impaired, keep in mind that a natural reaction following an accident and head injury is to claim you are OK and want to continue to ride. However, getting back on the bike should not be an option until you have been cleared by a doctor.
RECOVERY & PREVENTION
Before you return to cycling, you’ll need to have your concussion managed by a healthcare professional. Resting from all physical activity until symptoms have subsided is crucial to recovery. Returning to activity too soon can make severe head injuries in the future more likely.
READ MORE > HOW TO FALL OFF A BIKE AND NOT GET HURT
While you’re at home, limit stimulation (like televisions and computers) as much as possible while you recover. Have someone monitor your symptoms for 48 hours following the accident and avoid alcohol and other substances that may impair judgment and cognitive function.
Once a professional concussion protocol has been completed and you are free to resume physical activity, make sure you reach out to your healthcare provider immediately if any symptoms return to re-enter concussion protocol.
As far as prevention goes, wearing a helmet on every ride is a must. But while almost any standard helmet will go a long way toward preventing the severity of a head injury, some helmets do a better job than others at preventing head injuries caused by rotational forces — such as hitting a curb from the side.
Helmets with liners like the MIPS Brain Protection System allow the helmet to move, negating some of the rotational forces commonly involved in cycling crashes. You can also learn how to protect your head during a crash by following this advice.