Everyone knows it’s important to wear a helmet to protect your head. Helmets can reduce your risk from a serious brain or head injury. The catch? Helmets only work if they are used the right way.

It’s important to always use a helmet specifically designed for your activity.

Each sport or activity has a helmet designed specifically for the injuries for which you are at risk. For example, you should never wear a bike helmet to play football, or a skiing helmet to mountain climb.

Helmets are designed for a single impact.

Once you take a hit to the head, it’s time to replace your helmet. Even if your helmet looks fine, there can be internal damage that will keep it from protecting you the next time. This is also why you never want to buy a used helmet. It’s almost impossible to know if a damage already protected a head from a tree branch or the ground unless it’s new.

Helmets expire and need to be replaced every so many years.

Most manufacturers will place a sticker with the date of expiration or the date of manufacturing. Most companies recommend you replace your helmet every 3-5 years as the materials can break down and repeated minor damage can build up. If you have a helmet, check the manufacturer’s website for their recommended replacement practices.

Check the fit of your helmet annually, and regularly check the fit for children.

Helmets should always fit properly. You do not want to buy a helmet for a child to “grow into” as that puts their head and brain at risk. Below are three easy steps you can take to check the fit of a bicycle helmet. For other style helmets, talk to a professional or contact the manufacturer for guidelines to check the fit.

3 Steps to Check the Fit of a Bike Helmet

  1. The helmet should rest on your head until the front edge extends down about an inch from the top of your eyebrows.
  2. The helmet should fit snuggly side to side and front to back. It should not slide around on your head or be able to remove without unbuckling the strap.
  3. The strap should fit with no more than 1 finger able to fit between the strap and your chin.

Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center and Children’s Hospital. 

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