If you don’t mind I’d like to slip into Medical Mode for all you cyclists out here, here’s a discussion that I have with my injured cyclists clients and the parents of young cyclists.
The human brain weighs approximately 3.0 pounds/1.5kg. It is sitting in a semi-opaque fluid called cerebral spinal fluid. It is inside your skull surrounded by layers of protective tissue called the meneges and fitted with a custom-designed housing, the cranium (bone). That portion of the skull (the other part is the jaw or “mandible) may sound über bullet proof, but is only (think really carefully about this number) one-ten of an inch (2.945-2.972mm, male/female) thick. That’s it. And your brain is attached to the human body only at its base (with the various veins that flow into nourishing and enriching and taking away the brain activity by-products). That’s it! The attachment, in its basest analysis, makes the brain like a neural punching bag wobbling back and forth on your brain stem.
The human body has been essentially unchanged for the last 200,000 years. Two hundred thousand years ago there was no pavement, sidewalks, trucks, trailers, helmets, wheels, houses, buildings, gas tanks, steel, plastic, glass, wire or anything that humans invented in the last 10,000 years. The human body at that time, as it is today, can run, walk approximately 3.1mph/5.0kph miles per hour. The average human can run 12-15 mph/19.3-24.1kph. Those folks ran faster would have exceeded their body design tolerances and injured themselves with any type of fall. Look at it another way and you can see why people who ran faster than 12 mph are not in our genetic pool. Evolution didn’t build in the design to resist falls at faster than 12 mph. So the human body, specifically to our discussion the cranium, evolved to tolerate speeds less than the fastest the body could run. Your body isn’t designed to go that fast.
One alarming thing I learned in deposition of a well known orthopedist about our bodies’ design is our dependence on staying in conscious control. To protect ourselves from injury we must stay conscious. If you were standing completely upright, were to lose all motor control and collapse to the ground from an average height, let’s say 5’9 inches/5’4″ [average man/woman], you would injure yourself, including your brain pretty seriously. Evolution has eliminated humans that pass out spontaneously out of our genetic pool.
Look at where all the cool stuff is that you do is located:
Let’s talk about hurting the brain. Back to the “coup-contrecoup.” When the brain wobbles, it collides with the inside of your skull. There’s name for the injury to the brain from this internal trauma of the punching bag: “coup-contrecoup.” This is a bad thing. Trauma front, back or sides is going to cause your brain to experience trauma with coup-contrecoup, and will damage the neural cells bodies, the sheath coating the connections between the cells, or the connection or cause blood vessels to burst also resulting in brain damage. And this is without fracturing your skull. So if you were not genetically designed to not pass out, you’d fall and chances are, sooner or later, injure your brain, maybe pretty bad.
So, you are designed to no pass out and not run faster than your body can tolerate. All of this leads can lead us to the following conclusion: if you are riding a bicycle taller than your body and you are proceeding faster than the human body is designed to withstand you have all the necessary forces for, in engineering speak: exceeding your design tolerance specs. Which means you can end up breaking your cranium, your skull, should your cranium come in contact with the objects that were not around 200,000 years ago at a speed your one-tenth of an inch skull isn’t designed to handle.
From my clients over the past 26 years of doing personal injury I know breaking your cranium can result in cerebral spinal fluid leaking out of your ear, leaking out of any cracks in your skull. But, that’s not all that would be leaking out. Once the tissue is damaged, it’s ripped, so blood would also “leaks” out too. Or the blood might even stay in your brain, which is actually a bad thing, a very bad thing. Blood, as neurosurgeons will tell you, is a toxic substance to neural tissue, especially brain cells, all brain cells. Sufficient blood leakage on the brain as we know from stroke victims (where blood vessels break in the brain), results in loss of function, palsy, memory, sensory (think -loss of sight, smell, hearing).
Why I am I discussing this? I’ll tell you, but first, answer this for me please: Where do you think your sense of humor is located? Where do you think memories of learning to ride a bike are? your significant other’s phone number is stored, the combination to your bike lock, your underwear size, how much milk you have in the refrigerator is? Where do you thing your preference for your color, style of clothes, favorite food, your personality, decision making skills, your language skills, your memories, your hearing abilities, your visual abilities, your ability to walk, your ability to not defecate or urinate on yourself, to move your eyes, to keep your eyes open, to hear. Where’s that located? Your brain.
As a back drop to this discussion, keep in mind (pun not intended) your brain is where all this sits. “But that is not all” said the cat in the hat, that is not all: Everything that makes you you, your personality, your accent, your self control, your vocabulary, your likes and dislikes, favorite movie, favorite sights, sounds and feels, are housed in that very delicate tissue and that very delicate structure on essentially punching bag design. That very structure which you are propelling along at more than the speed than your human body was designed to tolerate.
This all brings me to my point: wear your helmet properly. “Ah,” you say, “I wear my helmet!” Really? Ask yourself this $25,000 question: is it properly worn? Here’s story that happened four weeks ago. A riding buddy companion relayed to me the case of a cyclist who went off pavement and reentered trail incorrectly falling over onto the pavement’s shoulder. He had a helmet on, however. His injuries? Well, according to my friend, there was a pool of blood which occupied half of the trail of about 10 feet’s width. The cyclist was unconscious and did not know who he was other than a guy in intense pain. Paramedics, not just EMTs were called and drove the big truck onto the trail some three miles in to pick him up and rush him to the emergency department. Three weeks later, when I saw this very same cyclist after the incident. He said he had sustained three fracture sites in the orbital bones just above his left eye, (right where his helmet was supposed to have been) a mild TBI (traumatic brain injury). What he didn’t know (that I did because I see the bills for these types of injuries) was what his hospital bill was like: on the average $25,000 to 50,000 for a brain injury. What struck me was that he had had his helmet on, however when I saw he had an inch and a half gap from the bottom of his chin to where the strap was: the strap was not tight enough to have kept his helmet in place. It didn’t keep the helmet where it could so it could have protected him. I pointed this out to him and told him he’d get to repeat that experience again if he didn’t tighten up.
Keep all this in mind next time you put on your helmet: “Do the tighten up” Like Archie Bell and the Dells of Houston Texas. If it’s not tightened, it’s not going to work; it will move out of the way as you fall. If it doesn’t work, your brain is at risk. If your brain is at risk, your personality, your memories and the ability to keep yourself from defecating on yourself are at risk. Have a nice day!