top of page

Whiplash Avoidance

Whiplash, or more properly stated, Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD), is usually associated with car accidents, slip and falls, and sports injuries. It is a very common injury affecting millions of people around the world, and costing health care systems billions of dollars. The question of the month is, what can we do to AVOID or prevent whiplash?

STEP 1. SHOP FOR A SAFER CAR. There are many resources that you can review such as the “Insurance Institute for Highway Safety” that have published ratings for the safest seats and head restraints, and include many makes and models of cars, SUVs, and trucks. For example, Volvo and Saab have recently designed car seats in which the seat back collapses backwards upon impact so as to minimize the rebound response in a rear-end collision, thus minimizing the head and neck from whipping back and forth. Therefore, before YOU purchase your next car, look at the vehicle’s structural design, its size and weight, the restraint systems, the airbags, the head rests, and its crash avoidance features. Remember, in general, smaller cars put you at greater risk simply due to the small mass equaling less protection.

STEP 2. POSITION THE HEAD RESTRAINTS PROPERLY. This means put them in their “up” position. The most common problem with head restraints is that they are placed too low and offer little to no protection if and when you are struck from behind. In fact, 80% of cars have the head restraint in the low or “down” position, which (surprisingly) is WORSE than having no head restraint at all! This is because when the head restraint is too low, it acts like a fulcrum, hitting the middle of the neck promoting MORE hyperextension when compared to having no head restraint whatsoever. Remember, head restraints are designed to fit an “average man,” making it challenging for a tall or short person to obtain a good fit. A good position for a head restraint is within 1 inch (~2.5 cm) of the back of the head and 1-2 inches (~2.5-5 cm) above the mid-portion of the head as “ramping” often occurs especially if the seat back is reclined backwards, and the whole body slides up and over the head restraint.

STEP 3. PREPARE FOR THE CRASH. This actually may NOT be possible since the “whipping” action happens within 500 milliseconds and voluntary muscle contraction is about twice as slow, not to mention that the crash can occur at lightning fast speeds leaving you with little time to prepare. However, if you do have time to prepare, do the following: 1. Put your head and neck all the way back into the seat back and a properly adjusted head restraint so that there is firm contact. 2. Extend the elbows and straighten the arms gripping firmly onto the steering wheel in preparation to brace yourself. 3. Place your foot on the brake as firmly as possible (assuming that you are stopped in traffic). 4. Look straight ahead avoiding neck or head rotation. 5. Tilt your head back slightly so that your eyes are pointed toward the top of the windshield. 6. Prior to impact, shrug your shoulders upwards toward the ears and brace yourself firmly.

STEP 4. SEEK IMMEDIATE TREATMENT. It is critical to obtain treatment as quickly as possible as there is a tremendous advantage to start treatment especially with the first two weeks following a collision to avoid the likelihood of a chronic potentially disabling condition.

Don’t miss the next article, click here for part 2.


bottom of page