Whiplash Neck Injury Is Related To Forces The Neck Is Subject To Which Commonly Happens In Rear End Car Crashes
Common symptoms of whiplash injury are neck pain from mild muscle strain or minor tearing of muscles and/or ligaments. In more severe cases, this type of neck injury may include nerve damage, disc damage, and in the most severe cases ruptures of ligaments in the neck and fractures of the neck bones. Minor whiplash injury is usually associated with pain and limited motion of the head and neck. These symptoms are usually temporary, but occasionally they may persist and include headaches, dizziness, and tingling in the arms indicating pain may be more than a minor neck strain or sprain.
When a car is struck from the rear it is accelerated forward which causes the seatback to push against the body and propel it forward while the head lags behind until the neck reaches its structural limit. The head is then suddenly accelerated by the neck like the tip of a whip which is where the term “whiplash” injury originates. Properly constructed and adjusted head rests (restraints) limit the damage to the neck before the head starts to follow the body.
The neck being thrown back and forth beyond its normal range of motion (distortion) results from sudden movement of the head relative to the body probably explains most whiplash injuries, but experimental and field studies suggest that nerve damage and associated long term whiplash injury symptoms can occur with even mild levels of neck distortion. It is possible that damage to the nerves and the joints is caused by motion of neck bones during a crash or that the nerve damage is caused by sudden changes in spinal fluid pressure from neck distortions. Neck sprains and strains are the most frequently reported injuries in insurance claims.
What are some factors that increase your risk of having a whiplash neck injury in a car accident?
Females are about 2 times more at risk of whiplash neck injury in all types of collisions and are more likely to develop long term symptoms. Fifty five percent of females with whiplash injuries develop long term symptoms compared with about 40 percent of males. Possible reasons are that males have stronger neck muscles than females for about the same size head and females tend to sit farther away from their seats than males which means the head must travel more before reaching the head restraint.
Drivers have a higher risk of whiplash neck injury than passengers possibly because they tend to move forward and away from the seat as they reach for the steering wheel and observe traffic, while passengers are more relaxed and lean further back in their seats, putting the head closer to the restraint. Persons in the rear seats are less likely to sustain neck injuries.
How can the headrest influence whiplash neck injury?
The head restraint is commonly called a head rest, indicating it is for comfort rather than a safety feature, but, installation of these are similar to seat belts – for protection. A proper head restraint reduces forceful backward trajectory of the head in a rear-end collision, reducing the odds of suffering a whiplash injury to the neck. The necessity of a good head rest is just as important as other safety devices in a vehicle, perhaps more so, as rear-end collisions are very common.
Head restraints that are adjusted at or above the center of gravity of the head decrease reporting of neck pain in a whiplash neck injury. In fact, the drivers with properly adjusted restraints indicate 40% less occurrence of neck pain compared to those that use improperly adjusted head restraints.
Having a poorly adjusted head restraint or one that cannot be adjusted properly to the height of your head in your vehicle is a major risk factor for increasing the severity of whiplash neck injury during a rear end collision. This is when the car seat head support can help. View the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Head Restraint Rating to get an idea of how your car’s head restraint rates.
Taking time to properly position your head restraint, or using a crash tested car seat head support may help to prevent a chronic whiplash neck injury and possible life with a chronic, disabling condition.
How To Adjust Your Head Rest To Protect From Whiplash Injury
Adjusting the height level: A head rest positioned too low may reult in a neck injury due to the head pivoting over the head rest in a whiplash injury. So, the initial adjustment is making sure height is correct. Maneuver the head restraint upward or downward so the mid point of the head restraint at meets the central point at the back of your head and even somewhat higher.
For every inch your head moves forward in relation to the restraint, the force of injury to your neck is magnified. A crash test by the Center for Research into Automotive Safety and Health indicates the forward positioning of the head by two inches greatly increases the whiplash force to your neck.
The term “backset” refers to the distance between the head and the restraint. This backset should not be more than 4 finger widths. The Car Seat Head Support, an add on head rest decreases this distance by 4 inches, allowing better protection from whiplash and increasing comfort.
If your head restraint fails to meet the minimun required backset, it can not help to prevent whiplash injury. The geometry of head restraints are evaluated by institute researchers at regular intervals in vehicles using the height and backset compared with an average sized person. A head restraint needs to be, at the minimum, at the height of the center of gravity of the head, which is approximately 3 and a half inches or 9 centimeters below the top of the head. The backset, which is the distance in back of the head, needs to be as short as possible. A backset greater than 4 inches or 10 centimeters is associated with more symptoms of whiplash injury to the neck in rear-end collisions. For more see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Review
The car seat head support places the headrest close enough to the back of your head, which is where it needs to be to provide protection in rear end crashes. Especially poor designs are adjustable restraints that, in their lowest positions, couldn’t protect most people and, at maximum height, still are not high enough for many people. Some of these poorly designed restraints do not even lock in the full vertical, or up, position so even when they’re adjusted, they can be pushed down in a crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told auto makers the head restraints in their passenger vehicles will have to extend higher and fit closer to the backs of people’s heads. For the first time, the new standard addresses the backset. Head restraints will have to be within about 2 inches behind the head. Unfortunately, it is not effective untill the beginning of 2009. Fortunately, there are some products which can help protect you now!
Learn to Reduce Risk: While at a stop, having your head or body turned during a collision can increase your chances of a significant injury. Keep your eyes on the road and your head straight. If you know you’re going to get hit, then reduce the distance between your head and the head restraint (backset) by moving your head back. The car neck pillow reduces the backset distance and increases your level of safety.
Crashes involving a whiplash injury happen at lightning-fast speeds, but if you have time to prepare: Put your head and your neck all the way back so that you’re in contact with the seat back and the properly adjusted head restraint. Straight-arm the steering wheel and get a good grip. If you are stopped, put your foot on the brake as hard as you can. Look straight ahead, not in the rearview mirror – don’t have your head turned at all. Put your neck back slightly so your eyes are looking level up at about the top of the windshield. Scrunch your shoulders up toward your ears and then brace.
In a recent study published 2010 Mar 7, in the European Spine Journal. The association between a lifetime history of a neck injury in a motor vehicle collision and future neck pain: a population-based cohort study. It was found that “… a history of neck injury in a motor vehicle collision is a risk factor for developing future troublesome neck pain. The consequences of a neck injury in a motor vehicle collision can have long lasting effects and predispose individuals to experience recurrent episodes of neck pain.”