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.
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Frequently Asked Questions:
Many people in car accidents suffer from whiplash injury. These serious neck injuries can range from mild discomfort to severe. But if they are not taken seriously and do not receive proper treatment, they can have long term consequences, including loss of work, full disability and large medical costs.
Whiplash injuries are often not felt immediately. You might not notice you have a neck injury for days after the accident. Many people do not get treatment, and this is a big mistake.
It is possible for a whiplash injury after a car accident to last days, weeks, months or years, depending on which soft tissues were injured and to what degree.
A long-term whiplash injury can occur from a very serious crash. Even in a severe accident, you could take 12 hours or more for the full pain of whiplash to manifest.
If you suspect you have had a whiplash injury, be seen by a medical professional immediately to get a diagnosis.
Most whiplash injuries are caused by rear-end crashes, even at low speeds. Whiplash is a serious injury of the soft tissues in the neck caused by a sudden movement between the head and torso. This strains your neck’s delicate, soft tissues, including muscles and ligaments, beyond the range of motion for which they are designed.
Although whiplash is often thought of as a minor injury, symptoms can last for months and affect your enjoyment of life, job and more. Thus, it is important to try to limit risks of whiplash injury.
Whiplash can be reduced if there is a limit between the distance from the head and the neck restraint, which is often referred to in the auto industry as a backset. The perfect distance is zero, but this is really not practical or comfortable. Backsets that are more than 6 inches or so from the head are related to higher rates of neck injuries in accidents.
A possibility in car design in the future could be a reactive seat that moves the head restraint nearer the head in the event of a rear end crash. This is known to reduce the amount and severity of whiplash injuries.
The best thing to do after getting whiplash in a car accident is to take it as a serious medical condition. Some people with a whiplash injury may feel little nor no pain after the crash, even if they have serious injuries. It is smart to be seen by a medical professional right away to see if you have a serious whiplash injury.
If you are experiencing mild discomfort after the accident in your neck, you also can ice it and take ibuprofen to reduce swelling, pain and inflammation. But most experts would tell you to get to the doctor immediately to see if you have a substantial case of whiplash. By doing so, you will have the injury on record immediately after the wreck. This could be useful in filing a claim at a later time.
Most present-day vehicles come with active restraint systems or at least have the option to upgrade safety features designed to avoid a collision or in the event of one, protect the passengers. Vehicles that have these active safety systems include:
- Acura – Vehicle Stability Assist
- Audi- Electronic Stability Assist
- Chevrolet- Active Handling
- Ford- AdvanceTrac
- Honda- Vehicle Stability Assist
- Land Rover- Dynamic Stability Control
- Mercedes Benz- Electronic Stability Control
- Subaru- Vehicle Dynamics Control
- Toyota- Vehicle Stability Control
- Volkswagen- Electronic Stability Program
- Volvo- Dynamic Stability Control
Electronic Stability Control refers to an active safety feature that is activated by sensors detecting steering angles and drifting motions. The vehicle is then overrun by a stability controlling system to help keep the vehicle on its intended course to avoid skidding and collision. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) also includes blind-spot detection, automatic brake assist and parking assist.
An active restraint system refers to active safety features in a vehicle that generally involve some type of electric component. An example of an active restraint system would be the luxury of a self-aligning headrest. These self-aligning headrests were designed to maximize safety and reduce the possibility of whiplash by moving up and forward in the event of a rear end collision, allowing the head and neck to have support at an earlier time. An active head restraint has been proven to reduce the risk of whiplash among other neck injuries not only by having a quick response time, but also by its curved. There are other types of active safety systems such as anti-lock break controls and blind spot detection.
How can you be sure that your headrest is properly positioned to ensure maximum protection from whiplash? In order to adjust your head restraint you must be seated with the seatbelt fastened to ensure your headrest is the correct height and distance from your head and neck. When adjusting your headrest, make sure you:
- Position the height so the headrest is the same height as the top of your head.
- The space between your head and the headrest should be as little as possible. Make sure the space between is no more than 2 inches.
- Adjusting the incline of your seat to 20 degrees past vertical will also alter the space between your head and the headrest.
There are many safety features in a vehicle that can help prevent whiplash, however, there is one that often goes unnoticed and is the BEST for preventing whiplash. The best safety feature in your vehicle for preventing whiplash is the headrest. When buying a car it’s important you review all safety features especially the headrest. Sit in the car, adjust the headrest so it’s level with the top of your head and strap yourself in with the safety belt to make sure the headrest is no further than 2 inches from the back of your head. Not all headrests are made the same so be sure you test this out before purchasing a car. It has been reported that 72-86% of drivers are improperly fitted to their headrests.
Whiplash is a very common injury sustained from being involved in an accident. Typically, when people lump together “whiplash” and “sports” it has a negative connotation. Besides auto collisions, whiplash does often occur in sports, but how can sports actually help prevent whiplash in the event of a car accident? If you play sports, this generally means you are a fit individual and exercise regularly. This can benefit you by building strength in your neck and in the event of a collision a strong neck may prevent the sudden back and fourth movement, which causes whiplash. If you play any type of contact sport such as football, this may benefit you as well. You are taught to protect your neck in the event of a tackle (or collision) the motion comes second nature to sports players. Gentle neck and shoulder exercises will also help strengthen those muscles and help prevent whiplash.
Any gentle neck and shoulder exercises that focus on strengthening those muscles are helpful in preventing whiplash. There is no exercise that can prevent whiplash however, the stronger your neck is the less jerking and jolting you will experience during the collision. Unfortunately, even when you avoid potential risk to prevent whiplash, collisions occur and often do not have control of how your body moves within the vehicle. If you are experiencing whiplash symptoms, there are some exercises you can do to improve movement, relieve pain and strengthen after whiplash. These exercises include:
- Isometrics– this involves placing your palm against your forehead and fighting resistance for 3-5 seconds
- Neck turns –stand straight and look right until you feel a pull, then repeat looking left
- Neck bend/chin tucks– pull your head down and bring your chin into your chest
- Neck extension– slowly tilt you head backwards and look up towards the ceiling
- Back twists– sit up straight, twist your torso right, then twist your torso left
- Shoulder rotations– roll your shoulders back
- Side to side bending – tilt your head to the right as if your ear is about to touch your shoulder. Repeat on the left side.
Head restraints or otherwise known as headrests we designed and by law required in 1969 to help prevent the forceful jolt of your head being thrown back and prevent whiplash injuries in the case of a collision. Although headrests can help prevent whiplash, they must be highly designed. However, not all car designers are headrest safety experts. During an impact, your headrest should make contact with your head, rather than your neck. This gives additional support particularly in the event that you are involved in a rear-end collision. Be that as it may, if your headrest is in the wrong position you could endure whiplash and damage. How can you be sure your headrest is in the right position?
- Position the headrest high enough to support your head
- Make sure your headrest is the same height as the crown of your head.
- The separation between the back of your head and the front of your headrest should be as little as possible, and less than 4 inches away.
- The recline of your seat will also affect the position of the headrest, so be sure to recline to adjust the distance between your head and headrest and make it as minimal as possible.
Symptoms of whiplash may be delayed and appear 24 hours or even days after the crash depending on the severity of the collision. Whiplash injuries will regularly have a moderate beginning and a large number of individuals won’t realize that they have endured the damage until days after the accident. Since the symptoms may appear days later, many individuals will not seek medical attention and assume the pain will heal with time. It is important to see your doctor immediately after an accident to verify any injuries that may go unnoticed. In the instance that whiplash goes untreated you may experience:
- Severe headaches
- Pain and stiffness to the neck and shoulders
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Lower or upper back pain
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering
- Mood changes
- Numbness and tingling
- Dysfunctional sleep patterns
- Jaw pain
- Lack of energy
- Pain between shoulder blades
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is highly recommended to seek treatment from your doctor as well as call your local personal injury attorney to determine what compensation you may be owed.
Wearing a seatbelt can spare your life and decrease risk of injury, although, there is the possibility of the seatbelt causing an injury during the mishap of an accident. The simple fact that seatbelts are designed for adults and not children means that children are particularly susceptible to seatbelt injuries. When the safety belt is in use, it locks up and increases force to the neck, stomach, chest and hips. The impact of a car crash and sudden jolt of a seatbelt increase chances of getting whiplash but reduces the likelihood of fatality. A common scenario where whiplash typically occurs is when the car is struck from behind otherwise known as a rear-end collision. This hugely impacts victims wearing seatbelts due to the abrupt stop from the safety belt. In this situation, the force created by the crash is exchanged through the car producing the seatbelt victim’s seat to move forward while their head and neck are constrained to move backwards.