Starting in spring and going into summer, bicycling is both a popular recreational activity and a preferred method of transportation for many people in the state. An increasing number of people are also choosing to ride bicycles. While riding bicycles offers many benefits, cycling on California’s roads also comes with a set of dangers and risks. U.S. News & World Report reports that 455 cyclists in California were killed in accidents between 2016 and 2018. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley report that there were 3,404 bicycle accidents in 2019 in Los Angeles, resulting in the deaths of 39 cyclists.
Cycling accidents also can result in serious injuries. Unlike people who occupy motor vehicles, bicyclists have little to protect them from the environment when they are involved in accidents. One of the most common types of injuries cyclists suffer in bicycle accidents is a traumatic brain injury. In some cases, bicyclists may not be immediately aware that they have suffered concussions only to experience increasingly severe symptoms. In others, the injuries will show immediate symptoms. If you are in a bicycle accident in which your head impacts the ground or cracks your helmet, you could have a concussion. Knowing what to do at the scene and during treatment is critical for helping you to recover.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that results when your head suffers a direct or indirect impact. Your brain is cushioned by fluid to help to prevent injury. However, when your head is impacted, your brain can bounce inside of your skull and strike the bone. When you suffer a concussion, some of your brain cells may be damaged. Thankfully, most concussions are fairly mild and will resolve within a few weeks to a few months.
Concussions can happen when even a small amount of force is applied. The amount of force necessary to cause a concussion will depend on your particular brain anatomy. This means that you should take bumps and falls seriously even if they are small. Some people are more susceptible to suffering concussion-related problems in the longterm.
While concussions are fairly common, knowing how to handle them is important. Properly managing your injury can result in better outcomes in both the short- and long-term.
Concussions in bicycle accidents
When you fall off your bike during a bicycle accident, you could suffer a concussion. Even if you are wearing a properly-fitted helmet, you could still suffer a brain injury. The aftermath of a concussion can be serious. Some cyclists get back on their bicycles and continue riding because they do not notice immediate symptoms after their falls. Some bicyclists will not lose consciousness and might not experience symptoms for days or weeks.
What to do after a bicycle accident when you strike your head
When you are involved in an accident in which you suffer an impact to your head, there are several things that you should do at the accident scene if possible. If you were struck by a vehicle, exchange information with the driver and get his or her name, address, insurance information, and license plate number. Take pictures of the damage to your bicycle and to the vehicle. If anyone saw what happened, get the names and contact details of the witnesses. Call 911 and wait for help to arrive. After the police arrive, tell them what happened and ask to be evaluated by your doctor. Even if you are unsure of whether you have been injured, you should not deny that you have been injured. Simply tell the police that you want to see your doctor.
When you should seek medical attention
Any time that you are involved in a crash and fall from your bike, you should be evaluated by your doctor. Take your helmet with you to show damage to it to your doctor. This can help your doctor assess the severity of the blow to your head. You should also ask your doctor to complete a full examination of your body and not only your head. You should not wait to see your doctor and should instead go immediately. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you could have a concussion:
- Severe headache
- Vomiting and/or nausea
- Change in consciousness
- Loss of consciousness
- Slurred speech
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble remembering
Some symptoms of a severe TBI that should prompt you to go to the emergency department include the following:
- Clear fluid leaking from your ears or nose
- Trouble walking in a straight line
- Loss of consciousness
You should not drive yourself to the hospital if you suspect you have a concussion. Instead, call an ambulance or ask a family member or friend to drive you. If you try to drive yourself, you could have a seizure or faint while you are driving.
What to expect during treatment
When you see a doctor for emergency treatment, he or she will review your medical history, assess your symptoms, and complete a neurological evaluation. Your doctor will start by asking you detailed questions about what happened and the impact on your head. You should make sure to tell your doctor about any symptoms you might be experiencing.
During your neurological exam, your doctor may check your vision, balance, hearing, coordination, strength, ability to experience sensation, and reflexes. He or she may also perform cognitive tests. Cognitive tests to assess your thinking skills might including evaluating your concentration, memory, and ability to recall information. Finally, your doctor may order imaging tests if you are experiencing symptoms like repeated vomiting, seizures, or headaches that are growing worse. Brain imaging can help to reveal whether any brain swelling or bleeding is happening inside of your skull.
For adults, doctors use a cranial CT scan to assess brain injuries after bicycling accidents. These imaging tests use several X-rays to obtain images of cross-sections of your brain. For children, CT scans are generally only used when the injuries are severe, or there are signs that the skull might be fractured.
Your doctor might also perform magnetic resonance imaging to identify complications or changes in your brain. This technology uses radio waves and powerful magnets to provide detailed images.
Finally, your doctor might hospitalize you at least overnight after your concussion for observation. If your doctor decides that you can go home to be observed, you will need someone to stay with you for 24 hours or longer to make sure that your symptoms do not worsen.
Follow-up care after a concussion
After you are released from the hospital or your doctor’s care, you will likely need to continue with follow-up care. It is important that you follow all of the recommendations you have been given by your doctor to maximize your recovery. If you are fatigued after your concussion, you will need to get plenty of rest. However, you should be awakened every few hours during the first 24 hours to check for signs of worsening symptoms.
Follow-up care at home includes rest without any physical activity. This can give your brain a chance to heal properly. You will need to wait until your symptoms are clear before you return to normal activities. This might require you to take medical leave from your school or job.
Finally, if your traumatic brain injury is more severe, your doctor may refer you to a neurologist and rehabilitation provider. Make sure that you keep all appointments and adhere to any medical recommendations you are given.
The treatment of concussions and traumatic brain injuries can be expensive. Even if you have medical insurance, the copays can quickly add up. If your accident was caused by a negligent motorist, the cost of your medical treatment and follow-up care might be covered by filing an insurance claim. The most important thing is for you to make sure that you see your doctor and get the treatment you need so that you can get back on your bicycle soon