Playing football at any level involves a lot of impact. Nearly every player on the field will experience multiple collisions on every play. This is a fact of the game, and it is unavoidable. That’s why all football players wear protective gear at all times. However, as medical science has advanced and taught us more about concussions and other football-related injuries, the need for better protection has become apparent.
Football programs at every level from the NFL to youth football has made various rule changes to keep players safer, but injuries are still a possibility. Eliminating all contact from football is impractical, but everyone agrees that something needs to be done about concussions.
When it comes to reducing injuries, particularly concussions, the helmet is the most important piece of football equipment.
To illustrate how concussions happen, you can imagine your head is something like an egg. Your skull is like the shell, and your brain is like the yolk of the egg. When you experience an impact to the head, your brain can hit the inside of your skull, and be injured. Until recently, the primary concern of football helmet manufacturers has been to protect the skull. However, we now know that serious injuries can happen even when the skull is undamaged.
The Engineering Challenge
There are two types of forces at play during a football impact. Head-on impacts apply linear force, in one direction. Other types of impacts can cause twisting forces which can actually be more dangerous. Protecting the head from linear impacts is straightforward; manufactures can simply add padding and make the outer shell stronger. Protecting the head from drifting forces, or rotational forces, requires innovative thinking.
A New Solution?
All of the current football helmet manufacturers and several new companies are taking steps to reduce the risk of concussions and other injuries. One innovative new technology is called Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS). This system is appearing in helmets used in many sports. Though it sounds complicated, the idea behind MIPS is actually quite simple. Manufacturers add a molded plastic layer between the outer shell of the helmet and the interior padding. This plastic layer is attached to the shell with plastic straps. When the player takes a rotational impact, the plastic layer and the outer shell are free to rotate independently. This significantly reduces the strain on the player’s brain. Helmets incorporating this technology are now being used in a variety of sports and other outdoor activities. Other helmet designs address this problem differently.
Football involves a lot of impact; that’s one of the things that makes it so exciting. However, all the impacts make the game potentially dangerous. Innovative new technologies like MIPS and others are helping protect players while keeping the game exciting for fans.