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Leaving Dummies in the Dust: Computer Technology Speeds Whiplash Research

Posted on: 11/30/1999
What happens to the neck during a whiplash injury? Researchers continue to study this question in hopes of finding ways to prevent long-term problems. If they can identify and measure the forces at the time of impact, maybe a restraint system could be made to reduce or prevent these forces.

Neck injuries from rear-end car accidents are common in the United States. This is true even with head restraints in all cars. One study showed that many head restraints are not adjusted properly, which contributes to neck injuries. The head and neck restraint should be adjusted so that it rests above ear level and within two inches of the back of the head.

Human volunteers are hard to come by for research of this kind. Understandably, not too many people want to suffer a rear-end impact for the sake of science. Crash dummies and cadavers (human bodies preserved for study) have stiff necks compared to live subjects and do not respond the same.

Computer simulation programs are providing new knowledge in this area. Information from these programs can be compared to previous data from cadavers, crash dummies, and humans. These comparisons help researchers see that the computer models are accurate. Now the forces of impact at different speeds and with different head positions can be tested with greater accuracy, and no one gets hurt in the process.

Such a study has shown that whiplash injury stretches the neck joints and the tissue around the joints. This has led doctors to try a new treatment. Injections were given into the neck joints of people with chronic neck pain. Sixty percent of patients got pain relief from this treatment.

Improvements for seat design have also been suggested. Keeping the head closer to the restraint seems to reduce the forces on the neck. This in turn reduces whiplash injuries.

Advanced computer technology has taken research on whiplash injuries to the next level. New information includes how neck injuries occur, the effects of different speeds on neck injuries, and the best type and placement of head restraints to prevent injuries. This information will help doctors find new treatments for whiplash injuries.

Allan F. Tencer, PhD, et al. Internal Loads in the Cervical Spine During Motor Vehicle Rear-end Impacts. In Spine. January 1, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 1. Pp. 34-42.

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