It happens every 8 seconds. You might be stopped at a red light or stop sign, awaiting your turn to proceed, when another motorist behind you doesn’t have control of his vehicle and runs right into you. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that up to 40% of the 6 million car accidents reported annually are rear-end collisions, and the most common injury sustained is whiplash. In recent years, incredible advancements have been made in vehicle safety, but is it really possible to protect your neck from a whiplash neck injury?

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash refers to the snapping back of a person’s head after it’s been thrown forward from the force of an impact. Whether a fender-bender or a wreck, a whiplash neck injury involves damage to the bones or soft tissues in the neck, when the weight of the head is sent backward with a whip-like motion. It often causes persistent pain and reduced mobility, but something as simple as a properly aligned head-restraint can actually reduce or prevent it from happening.

Preventing Whiplash

A key to preventing whiplash in an accident is adequate head-restraints, which include specific minimum heights for restraints and a limit of the allowable distance between the restraint and an occupant’s head. At the time the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) started a rear-crash program in 2004, nearly half of front seat head restraints were rated “poor” and only 12% “good,” leading to tightened Federal safety standards. In 2009 the improvement phase-in was complete, and 95% of restraints were rated “good,” resulting in dramatically improved head-restraint effectiveness. What can you do to protect your neck in case of an accident?

  • Buy a Car with a Good Rear-Crash Rating – Both the IIHS and Consumer Reports provide regular road-test reports regarding the efficacy of safety elements in vehicles.
  • Always Wear Your Seatbelt! – A seatbelt will help keep your body in its proper position in the seat, aligning you with the headrest and reducing hyperextension in the neck. Also, make sure you’re seated upright to align with the headrest.
  • Adjust the Head Restraint Every Time – Just like adjusting your mirrors when driving, make sure to adjust the headrest to fit every time it’s an option. Ideally, the top of the headrest should reach at least as high as the top of your ears, and as close as possible to the back of your head. If it can be tilted, keep it within 3 inches of the back of your head. Closer is better!
  • Maintain at Least A Car – Length from the Vehicle in front of you – Leaving enough space ensures that if the car in front of you has to make a sudden stop, you won’t have to slam your brakes and surprise the drivers behind you.

Finally, it is possible for you to position yourself to protect your neck if you see an accident about to happen. If you see a rapidly approaching car in the rear-view or hear squealing tires behind you, prepare for the impact by leaning back so your head touches the headrest and look straight ahead. This can help brace your body and minimize the force of the crash.

Worried Your Pain is Whiplash?

At Health Star Clinics, we make a strong effort to prioritize appointments for patients involved in car accidents, because we understand the importance of getting back to a pain-free, functional life. Call us today to learn more about our pain management specialists and how they can help identify the source of your pain with an accurate diagnosis, and create an effective, responsible treatment plan.