MIGHTY TACTICAL

There's about 10 millimeters of movement between you and potential traumatic brain injury

This article is sponsored by MIPS, pioneers in brain protection systems.

There's no amount of science that will protect you from a .50 cal round to the head. As of today, that's a simple fact.

Here's another simple fact: There have been over 350,000 documented cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among post-9/11 veterans as of 2017. Very, very few of those cases have been as extreme as a bullet to the brain (less than 7%). Over 45% of those injuries were the result of blunt force — either debris colliding with a helmet or the result of a fall — not a bullet.

Unfortunately, the helmets we put on our troops are not protecting them from these types of collisions as well as they could. Why? We have the technology and it's ready for implementation today. Truly, it's just a matter of understanding.

So, let's fix that problem.


Here are the two most important words in understanding why we're not protecting our brains in the right way: rotational movement.

Let's illustrate this. First, imagine your skull is a snow globe — your cerebrospinal fluid is the water contained therein and your brain is the collection of floaty bits. Now, watch what happens when we bring that snow globe straight down onto a flat surface.

Linear Movement — Well, about as linear as my imperfect, human brain could get it.

Not that interesting. Now, watch what happens when we give that same snow globe a light twist.

Rotational Movement — Come on, baby. Do the twist.

Looks a little more like New Year's at Times Square, right? But this isn't a cause for celebration — it's a cause of traumatic brain injury.

That first example is a demonstration of linear force. The amount of linear force a helmet can withstand is currently the primary standard to which the helmets we put on our troops are held up against — and, if you think about it, how often does a troop fall directly onto the top of their head? Not very often.

A much more likely scenario is that force comes at you from some sort of angle. Whether it's a piece of concrete blasting toward you from an exploded building, getting ejected from your seat and into the roof of the Humvee after running over an IED, or even something as simple as tripping and eating a nasty fall. When your helmet comes in contact with something from an angle, rotational movement is sent from the shell of the helmet, through the protective layers of Kevlar and foam, through your skull, and what's left is absorbed by the brain – the snow globe's floating bits. Unfortunately, our brains aren't very good at handling the shearing movement caused by rotation.

A look at the effects of linear (left) and rotational (right) movement on the brain. The images above were generated using the FE Model, a computational model that represents the most critical parts of the human head. Learn more about the model here.

(MIPSProtection.com)

But technology exists today that is designed to diffuse some of that rotational force within the helmet before it reaches your most important organ — yes, we're still talking about the brain.

Recently, I took the trek out to Sweden to meet the people dedicated to putting that technology in today's helmets — they're called MIPS, named after their technology: the Multi-directional Impact Protection System.

As I walked into the building (the whole thing is shaped like a helmet, by the way), the passion for creating protective headwear was palpable. These people are doers — whether it's mountain biking, skiing, motocross, or battling it out on the gridiron. They know that all good things come with an inherent level of risk, and they're passionate about doing what they can to mitigate that risk; especially when something like a TBI can cause a lifetime of complications for both the afflicted and their loved ones.

There, I spoke with MIPS founders Dr. Hans von Holst and Dr. Peter Halldin. Between the two of them, they boast an impressive 60 years of experience in neuroscience and biomechanics — which they distilled down into an hour-long frenzy of science, analogy, and visuals. That one-hour lesson didn't make me a neurosurgeon, but it certainly highlighted a fundamental problem in the way we evaluate (and later, equip troops with) head protection.

The current U.S. Army blunt impact test methodology is borrowed from the U.S. Department of Transportation Laboratory Test Procedure for Motorcycle Helmets. To break it down Barney-style, we test helmets by dropping them from various, set heights at various angles onto a flat surface and measuring the results of impact. These tests are designed to be repeatable and cost effective — the problem is, however, that all of these tests are very good at measuring linear impact — and if you think back to the snow globes, that impact isn't always very eventful.

MIPS twists the formula here in a small but very important way. Instead of dropping a helmet onto a flat surface, they drop it on to an angle surface. This small adjustment to the test methodology allows them to analyze collisions more in-line with real world examples — ones that involve rotational motion.

(MIPSProtection.com)

But enough about types of force — what does MIPS' technology actually do to protect your brain? Well, the genius is in the simplicity, here — and it's best described with visuals.

In short, MIPS is a low friction layer that sits between the inner side of the helmet and the comfort padding, custom fit to each helmet shape and size. That low friction layer lives somewhere between the helmet's shell and your head and allows for a 10-15mm range of motion in any direction. This relatively tiny movement allows your head to move independently of your helmet, acting like a second layer of cerebrospinal fluid when it comes to protecting your brain in the crucial milliseconds of impact.

(MIPSProtection.com)

This technology hasn't been introduced into military helmets just yet, but it's coming soon. In fact, right now, MIPS is partnering with a Swedish manufacturer, SAFE4U, to better equip special operators that need lightweight protection. The two companies worked together to create a helmet that is stable enough to work with attached NVGs, but still protects from oblique impacts.

Check out the brief video below to learn a little more about the multiple layers of protection involved:

While the technology is sound (and proven to work), here's the thing that really impressed me: When I finished talking with the team about their product, I asked them what they were looking to get out of the article you're reading right now. They wanted just one thing: to educate. They want you, our readers, to know why you're not getting your brain the protection it needs and what you can do to rectify that problem.

Yes, one way is to find yourself a helmet that's equipped with MIPS' technology (currently, you'll find MIPS' protection system in 448 different models of helmets), but it's not the only way. Whatever you do, make sure that the helmets you use (when you have a choice) are equipped to deal with the dangers of rotational movement and protect your thinkin' meat.

This article is sponsored by MIPS, pioneers in brain protection systems.