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Power of Patients- Winter Sports and The Importance of Wearing a Helmet

Safeguarding the Summit - The Crucial Role of Helmets in Winter Sports Safety

Winter sports, with their invigorating rush and picturesque landscapes, beckon enthusiasts to the frosty embrace of snow-covered slopes. Amidst the excitement, it's paramount to recognize the critical importance of protecting the head and brain from traumatic injuries, a risk that looms in various winter activities. From the thrill of skiing and snowboarding to the adrenaline-pumping arenas of ice hockey, the speed of snowmobiling, and the simple joys of sledding, the need for robust head protection cannot be overstated.

A single day on the slopes or engaging in winter activities holds the potential for immediate and long-term consequences, where a momentary lapse can lead to life-altering outcomes. The threat of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) casts a shadow over the exhilaration of winter sports, reminding us of the fragility of the human head and the vital role helmets play in preserving both the immediate well-being and the long-term cognitive health of enthusiasts.

In honor of January being National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Awareness Month (Source), in this exploration we delve into the imperative of adopting advanced helmet technologies and safety measures across a spectrum of winter sports. From understanding the groundbreaking MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) technology to exploring the intricacies of choosing the right helmet for diverse activities, our journey aims to empower winter sports enthusiasts with knowledge that extends beyond the thrill of the descent. Join us as we navigate the snowy terrains with a shared commitment to safeguarding the summit—where every adventure is not only exhilarating but also marked by a conscious dedication to safety, ensuring that the joy of winter sports is accompanied by a steadfast commitment to head protection.

The Numbers: TBI Frequency and Winter Sports

A 2022 study in Pub Med’s National Library of Medicine concluded that individuals engaging in skiing, snowboarding, and ice hockey face the highest susceptibility to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). In skiing and snowboarding, severe TBIs pose a significant concern, while in ice hockey, recurrent minor TBIs are a common occurrence. In recreational skiing, collisions with trees emerge as the primary cause of TBIs, whereas in professional settings, falls resulting from technical or tactical errors take precedence. In the realm of ice hockey, sports-related concussions (SRC) account for 10-15% of all injuries, predominantly arising from contact between players. The underlying mechanism in TBIs involves a blend of rotational and linear acceleration during head impact, leading to a diffuse axonal injury. Helmets, while not a guarantee against head injuries or a substitute for caution, save lives and lessen the number and intensity of TBIs.  The Human Kinetics Journal reveals in their 2022 article, “11 fatalities per season in snow sports could be avoided with the use of helmets, and the risk of head injuries overall can be reduced by 44%.”

Advancements in Helmet Technology: Reducing Concussion Risks on the Slopes

The adoption of ski helmets was not always a common practice among skiers. It wasn't until the mid-1900s, marked by several high-profile deaths within the racing community, that the significance of incorporating helmets gained serious consideration. By the 1960s, the use of hardshell helmets became compulsory on ski racecourses worldwide. However, among recreational skiers, the widespread acceptance of helmets was limited. Despite innovations introduced by Bell, a bike helmet manufacturer, in the 1980s and 1990s, the majority of casual skiers did not embrace the use of helmets. Shockingly, as recent as 2005, statistics indicated that only 9% of recreational skiers were wearing helmets (Source).

In recent years, emphasis on safety has reached new heights and new solutions- with innovative helmet technologies designed to mitigate the risk of head injuries. Among these advancements, MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) technology has emerged as a groundbreaking solution, reshaping the landscape of helmet safety. As Ian Greenwood in Curated explains, “The world of snow sports is inundated with endless jargon: Gore-Tex, ABS, camber, rocker, DIN, the list goes on and on, and, it can be overwhelming for the uninitiated…One of the more promising leaps in the story of snow sport helmet safety is the invention of the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System or MIPS.” Originally developed by a brain surgeon and a biomechanics scientist, MIPS aims to revolutionize the prevention of concussions and traumatic brain injuries during skiing and snowboarding.

The MIPS Safety System: Redefining Helmet Safety

MIPS technology, standing for Multi-directional Impact Protection System, is an innovative system integrated into helmets to enhance head protection during impacts. Developed by Swedish neurosurgeon Hans von Holst and researcher Peter Halldin, MIPS involves a low-friction layer strategically designed to allow slight movement upon impact, redirecting rotational forces away from the head. The motivation behind MIPS arose from the observation that many head injuries occurred while wearing helmets, particularly from crashes at angles, generating rotational forces.

The slip-tech liner, a result of their research, is positioned between the helmet foam and shell, permitting up to 15 degrees of rotation during a crash. This rotation, facilitated by the low-friction layers, helps direct energy away from the user's skull, addressing both rotational motion and strain. The MIPS technology has become recognizable with its yellow logo adorning various helmet brands like Giro, POC, or Sweet Protection.

Despite the excitement around MIPS, the brand refrains from claiming their technology as the safest due to legal concerns. However, independent research, such as that published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering and the Summation of Tests for Analysis of Risks (STAR) by Virginia Tech University, suggests that helmets equipped with MIPS are more effective at reducing rotational forces and concussions. STAR scores helmets on a scale from one to five stars, and many top contenders, according to their rigorous testing, incorporate MIPS technology.

While MIPS is not the only slip liner technology available, with WaveCel being a notable competitor, the effectiveness of both technologies is evident. Controversy has arisen, particularly with claims from a WaveCel-partnering bike helmet manufacturer asserting a 99% prevention rate of concussions, leading to disputes within the industry. Despite this, peer-reviewed French research acknowledges the effectiveness of both MIPS and WaveCel in mitigating concussion risks, emphasizing the need for further research.

Amidst corporate competition and technical jargon, the straightforward reality is that both MIPS and WaveCel technologies offer advanced protection compared to traditional foam liner helmets. Both appear on Virginia Tech’s STAR list with a score of five stars across various brands, making the choice between them less crucial for users.

Despite the use of helmets increasing in winter sports, leading to a decline in direct head injuries and TBIs, research has uncovered a paradoxical warning as well: an escalating number of helmet-wearers experience diffuse axonal injuries (DAI), leading to significant neurological consequences. Diffuse axonal injuries (DAI) are distinct from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). While TBIs encompass various forms of damage caused by a forceful impact or jolt to the head, DAI specifically involves widespread injury to the brain's axons, the elongated nerve fibers responsible for transmitting signals between neurons. Unlike focal injuries that may affect a specific brain region, DAI is characterized by damage throughout the brain, impacting multiple areas. So while helmets are effectively reducing the occurrence of direct head injuries, they may not provide comprehensive protection against the rotational and shearing forces that lead to diffuse axonal injuries. 

Some researchers have proposed that wearing helmets gives winter sports enthusiasts a feeling of protection and invincibility, but high speeds and high impacts can still cause injury even with the best technology. Thus, wearing a helmet can certainly provide more protection for your brain and we advise wearing one, but you still need to use caution and evaluate conditions before engaging in your winter sport.

Choosing Your Perfect Helmet: Considerations for Safety and Comfort

Selecting the right helmet is a crucial step in ensuring both safety and comfort on the slopes. Here are key factors to consider when choosing a snow helmet:

1. Comfort and Fit: The perfect helmet should provide a snug and secure fit. If a helmet is too big, it can move around on your head during a crash, compromising its protective capabilities. Conversely, a helmet that is too small won't sit securely, affecting both safety and comfort.

2. Conditions and Terrain: Consider the conditions and terrain where you'll be skiing or snowboarding. Different helmets come with various features to cater to specific needs, such as adjustable vents for added ventilation in warm conditions or detachable liners for colder weather.

3. Safety Certifications: Ensure that the helmet meets safety standards in your country. Common certifications include the ASTM F2040 snow helmet certification in the U.S. and CE EN1077 in Europe. These certifications attest to the helmet's ability to provide adequate protection under standardized testing conditions.

4. Special Features: Modern snow helmets are equipped with a range of purpose-built features to enhance functionality and convenience. Look for adjustable brims, magnetic chinstraps, Boa fit adjustment dials, and integrated audio speakers to suit your preferences.

5. Rotational Management: Select a helmet specifically designed with a low-friction layer, emphasizing rotational management. The inclusion of MIPS technology in a helmet is a valuable feature intended to reduce rotational forces to the head during certain angled impacts, contributing to a more comprehensive protection strategy.

Embracing Technological Innovation for Safer Slopes

As technology continues to evolve, winter sports enthusiasts can embrace these advancements to enhance their safety on the slopes. MIPS technology stands as a testament to the commitment to innovation in helmet design, offering a proactive approach to reducing the risk of head injuries. By choosing a helmet that incorporates such groundbreaking features, individuals can not only enjoy the thrill of skiing and snowboarding but also navigate the slopes with a heightened sense of security and confidence in their protective gear.

In this pursuit of safety, the revolutionary MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) technology stands as a beacon, offering a paradigm shift in helmet design to mitigate the risk of concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Understanding the nuances of selecting the perfect helmet for varied winter activities empowers enthusiasts to not only embrace the adrenaline of the descent but also navigate the slopes with a steadfast commitment to personal safety.

Yet, even with the best precautions, accidents can happen. This is where resources like Power of Patients come into play. Designed to empower individuals and caregivers in managing brain injuries, Power of Patients serves as a valuable support system. In the unfortunate event of an injury, its tools for documenting symptoms, tracking recovery, and connecting with a community of shared experiences can make a significant difference. Winter sports enthusiasts are encouraged to explore this platform, not only for the challenges it may help navigate but also for the sense of community and empowerment it brings to the recovery journey.

As we gear up for winter adventures, let's carry the awareness of the potential risks and the tools available to mitigate them. Whether racing down a slope or enjoying the camaraderie of a hockey match, wearing a helmet is not just a precaution but a commitment to personal safety and the well-being of our brains. Let the joy of winter sports be matched by a shared dedication to responsible and informed recreation, where each adventure is not only thrilling but also safeguarded by a collective commitment to protective gear and the invaluable support of resources like Power of Patients. Stay safe, embrace the winter wonders, and let the snowy landscapes be the backdrop to adventures marked by both exhilaration and conscious care. Visit our website to learn more and register today.

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