Turban style and thickness affects head injury risk in Sikh cyclists 

A new study from Imperial College London has revealed that the style and thickness of turbans affect serious head injury risks in Sikh cyclists. 

Sudden impacts or jolts to the head can cause skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). TBIs can cause bleeding, unconsciousness, and potential changes to the brain leading to memory loss, mood and personality changes and lack of concentration – sometimes many years after the initial injury. 

However, very little research has been done to ascertain the extent and mechanism by which turbans might mitigate impacts to the head during cycling incidents. 

Now, researchers from Imperial and the Sikh Scientists Network have studied the performance of turban styles worn by male and female Sikhs under the types of impacts common to cycling incidents. The findings allowed them to make evidence-based recommendations so that Sikhs who wear turbans might benefit from the best head protection possible. 

The research is published today in Annals of Biomedical Engineering

Using crash test dummy heads, the researchers tested five different turbans, distinguished by two wrapping styles and two different fabrics with size variations. They then compared their findings of injury risk with conventional cycle helmets and with bare heads.

They found that turbans greatly reduced the risk of skull fractures in areas covered with a thick layer of fabric, compared to bare heads. Also, the style of the turban greatly affected the risk of head injury. 

For impacts to the front of the head, the Dastaar turban style with 3 metre long and 2m wide Rubia Voile fabric performed the best, with a 23 per cent reduction in the force applied to the head compared to the worst performing turban style.  

For impacts to the side of the head, the Dumalla turban style with 10m long and 1m wide Full Voile fabric performed the best, with a 59 per cent reduction in the force applied to the head compared to the worst performing turban style. 

They also found that although the risk of skull fractures and brain injuries was higher with all turbans than conventional bicycle helmets, the risk might be reduced using the following recommendations: 

·         Covering a larger area of the head with a thick layer of fabric. 

·         Placing energy absorbing materials between the layers of the fabric to increase impact duration and reduce force, reducing the risk of skull fractures. 

·         Reducing the friction between the layers of fabric to reduce the rotational force transmitted to the head, thus the risk of brain injuries. 

Lead author Dr Mazdak Ghajari, from Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering, said: “From our previous work, we have a good understanding of which types of impacts are common in cyclists and how we should assess the efficacy of head protection equipment in the lab. This project was a great opportunity for us to apply this expertise to empower Sikhs to protect themselves from head injury.” 

Co-author Dr Gurpreet Singh, from the Sikh Scientists Network and Imperial’s Department of Materials, said: “Sikhs have earned the right to wear the sacred turban with pride for centuries now. However, being just 0.5% of the world population, very little has been done to scientifically empower Sikhs to continue practicing their faith with advanced, protective materials that are in-line with their religious requirements. Due to a lack of research into advanced fabrics, Sikhs currently face varying degrees of risk. 

“Our findings show that simple Sikh turbans have the potential to mitigate head impacts. This provides important evidence that we hope will point the wider scientific community to invest in the best headgear fabrics to absorb shock, which indeed will open commercial markets to people from all walks of life that deal with concussions and head impacts.” 

The researchers now plan to use their findings to develop a force-absorbing turban material to offer Sikhs who wear turbans better head protection in situations where helmets might otherwise be worn. 

The findings could also be used to benefit Sikhs in other areas where head protection is worn. For example, due to religious tenets, Sikhs who wear turbans are exempt from wearing hard hats and motorcycle helmets in several countries where it is a legal requirement, including the UK, India, some Canadian states, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden and Thailand. 

Ruth Purdie OBE, chief executive of The Road Safety Trust, which funded the research, said: “Cyclists are classed as vulnerable road users, and therefore it is important to think about different ways to improve their safety. 

“The findings of this study could really support Sikh cyclists and help reduce their risks of head injury.” 

This work was funded by The Road Safety Trust and supported by the Sikh Scientists Network. The research was undertaken with Rehat Maryada – the Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions 

– in mind. 

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