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Whiplash Testing with the Element of Surprise

Posted on: 11/30/1999
In the real world, most people get whiplash injuries in a surprise rear-end collision. In the laboratory, most subjects know that a crash is coming. Does this make any difference in the results? These researchers designed a study to find out.

The subjects in this study were divided into three groups. All groups knew they were taking part in a whiplash study. But one group got a countdown to the rear-end crash, the second group knew a crash would happen sometime in the next minute, and the third group got crashed into before they expected it.

The researchers measured the muscle response and head movement of all the subjects. The results showed that the surprised group showed much less muscle tensing and much more head movement than the other groups. And women tensed their muscles less and ended up with worse whiplash then men.

The results fit in with what doctors see in real-life whiplash injuries. Women tend to have worse whiplash injuries, and people who see the crash coming tend to have fewer injuries than people who are caught unaware. The results also suggest that past studies may underestimate the extent of whiplash that happens in real collisions, since those subjects all expected a crash.

This study is important because doctors don't completely understand the way whiplash affects the spine in the neck. It could help researchers design studies that better reflect the way whiplash really happens in the real world.

Gunter P. Siegmund, PhD, et al. Awareness Affects the Response of Human Subjects Exposed to a Single Whiplash-Like Perturbation. In Spine. April 1, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 7. Pp. 671-679.

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