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The Whiplash Impact

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Updated April 22, 2007

Whiplash is a neck and spinal injury most commonly caused by a rear-end car collision. Generally, the driver and passengers in the vehicle that was hit from behind sustain the whiplash injury. But occupants in the other vehicle might also sustain a similar injury, although it is technically not whiplash.

The impact of a rear-end collision will force the neck and head to whip back and forth suddenly, stretching the body beyond its normal range of movement.

Although it's not always possible, it's important to sit safely in your seat. A 2006 study showed that if the backrest, which includes the headrest, is more than 2.5 inches away from the back of the head, it can cause soft tissue damage during a rear-end collision.

The speed of the impact does not determine the severity of the whiplash injury. Cars moving very slowly can still produce intense whiplash injury.

Medical doctors and researchers disagree about the effect of rear-end collisions when car occupants had their heads turned at the time of the impact, however, the San Francisco Spine Institute insists that if the accident victim’s head is turned (in either direction) upon the moment of impact, this will prolong the injury and healing will not progress as well as someone whose head was looking forward.

Sources:
1. Stemper, Brian, Ph.D., Yoganandan, Narayan, Pintar, Frank, (2006).Effect of head restraint backset on head-neck kinematics in whiplash.. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 38, 317-323.

1. Stemper, Brian, Ph.D., Personal Interview and Email Communication. Dec 21 and 22 2006.

3. Whiplash. (2005). In MedlinePlus [Web]. National Institute of Health. Retrieved 12 22 2006, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000025.htm

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