It’s easy to forget how much power is harnessed by the modern automobile. As we run errands or sit in traffic, we rarely consider the sheer weight and force required to get us from one place or another. It’s not until we’re involved in an accident that we truly appreciate the physics at work. During a crash, a person’s body weight is multiplied by the speed of a vehicle, causing G-forces to bear down on some of their most sensitive body parts.
Not surprisingly, that weight can have a serious impact on the human body. While safety features have come a long way to take the brunt of this weight, injuries like whiplash are still incredibly common. Sudden stops can cause serious damage even when a person does not sustain cuts, bruises or wounds in a crash. Thankfully, there are a few steps a person can take to minimize the impact of this force on the body and prevent whiplash from occurring.
The Physical Impact of Whiplash
Whiplash occurs when a person’s neck is jerked suddenly back and forth. The movement pulls the cervical spine beyond its usual range of motion, damaging the muscles and ligaments in the neck. Particularly common among victims of rear-end car accidents, whiplash can occur any time a person’s neck moves back and forward unexpectedly.
Whiplash can be deceptive, with symptoms often not presenting for hours or even days after an accident. Common symptoms include headache, blurred vision, dizziness and neck pain. Though thought of as a relatively mild injury, whiplash can have long-term effects on a person. Chronic pain and discomfort is possible in people suffering from whiplash. Most, however, recover in about three weeks.
Reducing the Risks
Understanding the physics at work in a car crash scenario can help accident victims minimize the effects of whiplash. Because whiplash occurs when the head is jerked back and forth, having the headrest properly adjusted can reduce the severity of such movements in a collision. A headrest should sit directly behind your head while driving. Adjust it as close to your head as is comfortable, with the height reaching to the top of the ears. Ideally, there would be no space between your head and headrest. Realistically, that would be both uncomfortable and impractical. Instead, limit the space between as much as possible. Distances greater than 10 centimeters have been associated with increased symptoms of neck injuries.
Wearing your seatbelt can also help reduce the chances of whiplash. Though seatbelts may not keep your head from jostling in a wreck, they can help keep your torso in place. This complements the work done by the headrest, keeping your entire body in place despite the amount of force it endures. The reduction of strain minimizes the effects of whiplash.
Of course, the best way to avoid whiplash is to prevent car accidents altogether. By driving defensively and staying alert to changing traffic conditions, you can lower the odds of ever being involved in a wreck. While not all collisions are avoidable, many of the most common kinds of accidents are indeed preventable.
Evolving Technology and Whiplash
Modern cars are designed to absorb as much energy as possible in crash situations. Rather than pass the energy on to the passengers, vehicles offset collisions by using crumple zones to bear the impact of the crash. Air bags, seat belts and side impact protection go a long way to prevent the force of the wreck from harming passengers inside.
Headrest effectiveness has become a particular point of focus for safety regulators in recent years. Newly introduced federal standards on the height of head restraints and the allowable distance between the head and the headrest have seen dramatic changes in the way car interiors are manufactured. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety began a rear-crash program in 2004. Their initial research revealed that nearly half of front head restraints were rated “poor.” By 2014, however, none were rated “poor” and 95 percent were classified as “good.”
The Importance of Aftercare
Even when you take precautions to prevent whiplash, accidents happen. Controlling for damage sometimes isn’t enough. If you have been involved in a car crash and feel the telltale signs of whiplash, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. A doctor will conduct a thorough examination and may require imaging like X-rays, CT scans or an MRI to better understand your injuries. In many cases, a doctor will prescribe physiotherapy to help the patient heal.
Before visiting the doctor, make a list of your symptoms. Be ready to explain exactly what led to your injuries and what treatments, if any, you used to combat pain. Have a list of questions about your whiplash ready, and be sure to address concerns about chronic pain. Do not leave your doctor’s office without getting copies of their findings. If you choose to file a claim, documentation will be required by your insurance company.