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Reduce Your Chance of Whiplash by 40% in Seconds

On a recent episode, Dr. Oz demonstrated how to properly adjust the height of the headrests in your car. This is an important enough subject that Dr. Oz saw fit to dedicate a full segment on his show to address this issue. Injuries to the neck, in the form of whiplash, are the most common soft tissue injuries sustained in car accidents. There are two things that make a “whiplash” injury more serious than a simple strain or sprain to other body joints. The first is the fact that there are extreme forces transferred to the neck when automobiles collide. An 8 mph rear-end collision can result in a 5g acceleration acting on the occupant’s head. This literally happens in a blink of an eye (well okay, maybe 2 blinks).

Whiplash Can Cause Trauma to Your Spine

The second consideration is the fact that the vertebrae of the spine are beautifully designed to protect and house the spinal cord. The extra protection afforded the spinal cord and spinal nerves, in my opinion, is due to the fact that nerve tissue is more vulnerable to traumatic injury that any other tissue in the body. Whiplash injuries are often not just simple strain or sprain injuries of the neck; they frequently include injury to the spinal cord and nerves of the cervical spine. This is trauma that these structures are ill equipped to handle. When I see signs of injury to the cervical spinal cord nerves in my practice, I see an increased pain and healing time as well as a decreased chance for a full recovery from the injury.

A Properly Adjusted Headrest Can Reduce Whiplash Injury

The above facts make it very obvious that everything should be done to limit or prevent whiplash injuries. A Canadian study concluded that properly adjusted headrests could reduce the number of whiplash injuries by 40%.  The same study found that only 14% of Canadian drivers had their headrests in the proper position. Personally observing occupants in their cars in the United States, I would have to say that we probably do no better in this country.

In his presentation, Dr. Oz properly demonstrated that the height of your headrest should rise above your head but neglected to talk about how far from the back of the head the headrest should be. The severity of a whiplash injury is in part based on the amount of acceleration acting on the occupants head and the acceleration increases greatly when the distance the head travels is more than a few inches. I tell my patients that, “The center of your head should be right in the center of the head rest and the top of the headrest should be level or even higher than the top of your head”.  In addition, the space between the back of the head and the headrest should be no more that 2.5 inches. This may mean that the back of your car seat is more upright than you normally have it.

It Only Takes a Few Moments

So I urge you to take the time to properly adjust the headrests in your vehicle.  Examples of properly and poorly adjusted headrests can be found at:

You could be preventing serious injury to you and your loved ones. AND it only takes a few seconds!

Reference Summary

White AA, Panjabi MM “Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine”

MacNab “Whiplash Syndrome”

RoSPA : The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents


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