There's plenty of debate about neck braces: Do they really work? How much do they reduce neck injuries? And which particular injuries? A big problem in trying to find answers to these questions is there is so little genuine research available. There is plenty of anecdotal “evidence” from riders, some saying they would be dead or at least paralyzed now if they hadn’t been wearing their neck brace, and others saying neck braces can break your sternum or cause other injuries. Not very decisive. So we pored over the existing research to see if we could draw any tentative conclusions.
It appears speed is a big factor. Neck braces are far more common in desert racing and motocross compared to Enduro riding. One study showed 10% of motocross injuries are neck and upper spine fractures. In contrast, a different study of Enduro competitors found no spinal fractures at all, just mild strains, which only accounted for 5% of total injuries. Keep in mind these are actual racers, so slower everyday riders will probably have even less chance of spinal injuries.
Do neck braces actually work? An informal report from basic statistics gathered by emergency services personnel seems to support the use of neck braces. Unfortunately, the methodology isn't very good from a research angle, and we feel the report needs analysis and interpretation from experts to be more reliable.
Next, we read a white paper from Leatt, creator of the first motorbike-specific neck brace. The methodology is much better in this study, but of course there's the potential for a lot of bias here. Not surprisingly, the report found Leatt neck braces do work in preventing or reducing injury. It would be good to see this paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, as this would give it the stamp of approval from independent experts, but no luck so far.
We then came across a properly independent study that said their results were unclear and that the dummy used in all tests so far should to be replaced with a better model to really prove neck braces work. Another independent study showed neck braces had a moderate effect, but only if the gap between the helmet and neck brace was less than five centimeters.
Our conclusions? Well, at the moment, it's all too sketchy to form any solid opinions. But hopefully in the near future we will see some decent independent research on neck braces using high-tech crash test dummies and great methodology applied to various types of dirt riding.
In the meantime, do your own research and see if it's worth handing over your hard-earned cash.
MOTORCYCLE NECK BRACE REFERENCES:
Khanna, A., Bagouri, E. O., Gougoulias, N., Maffulli, N. (2015). Sport injuries in enduro riders: a review of literature. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, 5 (3), 200-2022.
Khosroshahi, S., Ghajari, M., Galvanetto, U. (2016, May). Finite Element Simulation of Neck Brace Protective Equipment for Motorcycle Riders. Paper presented at International Conference on Impact Loading of Structures and Materials, Turin, Italy.
Leatt, C., de Jongh, M., Keevy, P. A. (2009; public release 2012) White Paper: Research and Development Efforts towards the Production of the Leatt-Brace. Leatt Corporation.
Sathyanarayan, D., Nightingale, R., Ballantyne, C., Panzer, M. B. (2016). The Efficacy of a Motocross Neck Brace in Reducing Injury.
Sun, J., Rojas, A., Kraenzler, R., Arnoux, P. J. (2012). Investigation of motorcyclist safety systems contributions to prevent cervical spine injuries using HUMOS model. International Journal of Crashworthiness, 17 (6).
Barry is a carbon-based bipedal Australian life form who has traced his lineage back to some of the finest convict stock from the mother country. During his half-century on earth, he has been staggeringly unsuccessful at staying on a dirt bike. Barry endeavours to pass this incompetence on to others via his videos and our magazine.