OCT 1, 2023
MIPS - Don't Knock It 'Til You Try It
by Nandini Govender
The utilization of helmets has an extensive history extending back to the Bronze and Iron Ages. Prehistoric helmets were made of leather or wood and then progressed to various metals. Today are a combination of lightweight plastics and foam. Initially designed for combat and heraldry, helmets have evolved to suit many settings. They are now an integral part of sport, including skiing, football, hockey, and as safety gear in work environments like construction sites and power plants.
The primary objective behind the sports helmets is to minimize the impact from a collision or contact with an oncoming force. This is achieved through the design of crushable foam and a resilient outer shell which together will absorb or deflect incoming forces. However, this works great for straight on impact or linear motion but not so much for a crash involving rotation. That is until one day Peter Halldin and Hans von Holst said, “when the going gets tough, make your helmet tougher”. Developed at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, MIPS technology helped change the world of helmet safety, creating an additional layer of protection that just might keep your head on your shoulders.
What is MIPS?
Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is an integrated safety system within a helmet designed as an additional layer of protection in case of collision or forceful impact. Specifically, MIPS is designed to reduce damage caused by a fall involving rotational motion.
The MIPS is a trusted feature used in many helmet types such as biking, horse riding, motosoport and snow sport helmets. Popular brands such as Giro, POC, Scott, Oakley, Head and numerous others incorporate MIPS into their helmet designs.
Imagine getting punched in the stomach by your younger sibling. The force would most likely cause you to step back as you were hit straight on. This would be linear motion.
Imagine a D1 athlete jumps and gets you in the jaw with a spinning kick. The impact will cause your jaw to move to your right and with it your head. This is rotational motion.
In both examples your body accommodated for the force of the impact by moving with it. Because there is a spin or turning motion during impact your body tends to turn with the force of the collision which can increase the risk of minor to severe brain injuries, from concussions to swelling and vascular injuries.
During a straight-on impact, when the force is transmitted throughout your body, your brain experiences a stretching as it moves and compression as it hits your skull, damaging a localized portion of the brain. These are known as focal injuries. During an impact involving rotational motion, your brain turns, and this can twist and deform the tissue, which impacts a widespread area of the brain. This is known as diffuse injuries. While both types of injuries are possible with any type of crash, the trend mentioned before is usually observed. Diffuse injuries tend to be harder to detect through imaging and on average cause more damage than a typical straight on crash. Some studies have found that lower severity rotational crashes can cause more damage to the brain than a straight on collision.
How does MIPS work?
MIPS is an extra layer in your helmet (between the shell and foam) which moves slightly, around 10-15mm, during impact. This low friction layer is able to absorb and redirect a proportion of the rotational force into the layer thus minimizing the effects on the brain, skull and surrounding structures.
You can identify a modern MIPS helmet by turning it over and looking to see a (often yellow) slightly movable plastic layer that is beneath the padding of the helmet. The box and informational pamphlet with the helmet should also have an approved MIPS logo on it.
Should you get a MIPS helmet?
Yes. More often than not a crash or collision can involve landing at an angle and it’s important to protect your brain for short- and long-term damage. This is a low weight and minimal volume preventive measure that can help to minimize damage. MIPS is designed to help with angled impact from any angle that has been tested and proven to help prevent damage with rotational motion. MIPS also does not affect the look and ventilation of the helmet since each design considers the shape and fit to accommodate for the MIPS.