Almost 70% of cyclists without helmet at time of head trauma

Research based on cyclists transferred to State’s main centre for treating brain injury

Almost 70 per cent of cyclists transferred to the State’s main centre for treating brain damage were not wearing helmets at the time they sustained their injury, new research shows.

Eighteen of the 26 cyclists sent for treatment to the national neurosurgical centre at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin were not wearing helmets, two were and the status of six patients was unknown, a study of admissions to the centre over a 30-month period shows.

Cycling accounted for all four of the sports and exercise-related deaths recorded at the centre over the period. Two of these patients were not wearing helmets, one was and the status of the other mortality was unknown.

Two of the dead cyclists are recorded as having fallen off their bicycle, while the other two were knocked off.


More than half of all sports and exercise-related referrals to the centre between 2016 and 2018 related to cycling injuries, the figures show.

The findings are contained in a paper delivered to European Association of Neurosurgical Societies conference on neurosurgery, taking place in Dublin this week.

Cycling accounted for 86 cases referred to the centre for a review, Gaelic football for 30 and horse riding for 23. While only 13 rugby injuries were referred, it accounted for the highest rate of patient transfer, almost half, and five of these six patients required major brain surgery for their injuries.

Of the remaining referrals, eight related to hurling, while others involved injuries sustained in soccer, golf, mixed martial arts, tennis and trampolining.

‘Risk of skull fracture’

“The figures show no sport is immune to head injury, so common sense needs to prevail,” said lead author Dr Phil O’Halloran of Beaumont Hospital.

As for the issue of helmet-wearing while cycling, he said “you can’t ignore the numbers. Wearing a helmet won’t stop all serious head injury but it does reduce the risk of skull fracture.”

A total of 56 patients, including 30 children, were transferred to the acute neurological unit. Almost 70 per cent were ultimately discharged home.

Aside from the four deaths, four patients were transferred out with high-dependency care needs. One of these cases was rugby related, while the other others occurred after a fall from a bicycle and a horse and while hiking.

The study was prompted by growing concern over the long-term effect of repeated head injuries on brain function. “The continuing efforts by physicians, therapists, administrators and researchers go a long way to reducing the risk of fatal head injury and are a key factor in ensuring the continued popularity of all contact sports,” said Dr O’Halloran.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.