OVER-ZEALOUS bicyclists can strain their muscles or grow saddle sore, but the injuries that most need to be prevented are head injuries, those "that doctors can't fix," says a local pediatrician.
"The serious injuries and the ones from which children do not recover are the head injuries," says Dr. Modena Wilson, a pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The injuries result from falls a bicyclist takes on his own as well as those caused by collisions with cars.
In Maryland, about five youngsters under age 16 die each year from bicycle injuries; another 500 are hospitalized, many with serious injuries, Wilson says.
The best way to prevent these injuries -- skull fractures and often resulting brain damage -- is to wear a helmet "from the first bicycle on," says Wilson, who heads the committee on injury and poison prevention for the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Should a child hit his head, the helmet protects the skull and the brain by cushioning the impact and spreading the shock so it is not in one spot.
Parents should buy only helmets that have been approved by the Snell Foundation or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Wilson says. If children are reluctant to wear helmets, she suggests that "parents sort of gang up on their kids" by making their area a "helmet neighborhood," where wearing the protective gear is not only accepted but also required.
"Another high priority is keeping kids off roads . . . until they are old enough to handle that," says Wilson, adding that children also need to be instructed to follow the same rules of the road that motorists do.
"And children should not ride at night," she insists.