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Glendale Adventist Medical Center
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Glendale, CA 91206
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Neck Ligaments on a Collision Course

Posted on: 11/30/1999
We often hear about rear-end collisions causing whiplash injuries, but what about frontal collisions? How much force does it take to strain the cervical spine? What happens to cause these injuries? Understanding how injuries occur can help us prevent chronic neck pain. Doctors hope to find a way to diagnose and treat soft tissue injuries of the neck sooner after such injuries.

In this report, scientists from the Biomechanics Research Lab at Yale University bring up the issue of neck injuries from head-on collisions. Tests were done on six human spines prepared after death for study. Various amounts of force were applied to mimic a head-on impact. A digital camera and special computer software recorded and analyzed the data.

The authors found that each ligament in the neck has its own limit. Some can withstand 4G of acceleration force on impact. Others hold up under 10G or more. (A "G" is a measure of acceleration. 1G is what you'd experience if you jumped out of an airplane). Injury occurred most often at the C3/C4 level of the cervical spine. This level may be at greatest risk for injury during a head-on crash. Ligaments at a greater distance from this level may be at risk of injury during head-on impact.

It's still not clear exactly what happens to cause neck injury during a head-on collision. The authors of this study offer many possible explanations based on their findings.

Manohar M. Panjabi, PhD, et al. Cervical Spine Ligament Injury During Simulated Frontal Impact. In Spine. Vol. 29. No. 21. Pp. 2395-2403.

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