TUESDAY, Feb. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of spine injuries, says a study that challenges a widely held belief that the weight of motorcycle helmets increases the risk of neck injuries.

"We are debunking a popular myth that wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle can be detrimental during a motorcycle crash," study leader Dr. Adil H. Haider, an assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a Hopkins news release.

Haider and colleagues reviewed U.S. National Trauma Databank information on more than 40,000 motorcycle collisions between 2002 and 2006, and found that riders wearing helmets were 22 percent less likely to suffer cervical spine injury than those without helmets.

The researchers also found that helmet wearers were 65 percent less likely to suffer traumatic brain injury and 37 percent less likely to die than riders without helmets.

The findings were released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

The investigators said their study provides the strongest evidence yet that helmets significantly reduce the risk of cervical spine injury, which can result in paralysis.

"Using this new evidence, legislators should revisit the need for mandatory helmet laws. There is no doubt that helmets save lives and reduce head injury. And now we know they are also associated with a decreased risk of cervical spine injury," Haider said.

Over the past 15 years, a number of states have repealed their mandatory motorcycle helmet laws after lobbying from anti-helmet activists who often cite a small, 25-year-old study that suggested that the weight of a motorcycle helmet increased the risk of spine injuries. However, many experts say the study used flawed statistical reasoning.

"Additionally, helmet technology has significantly improved since that time -- now helmets are much lighter but even sturdier and more protective," Haider said.

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers motorcycle safety advice.