There are about 3 million whiplash injuries in the U.S. every year with a comprehensive cost of about $43 billion. About a third of all people rear-ended suffer an injury, and only about half of those injured suffer chronic pain. About 10 percent wind up with disability. Most whiplash injuries occur below 12 mph with little or no damage to either vehicle in a rear-end crash. Whiplash injuries also account for a significant time loss from work as well. This is why a vast amount of research goes into preventing these painful, costly whiplash injuries.
In order to take measures to decrease the amount and severity of whiplash injuries, research had to be done (like the Spine Research Institute of San Diego) to find out how people get injured (biomechanics) and why some people get hurt while others do not. These reasons are called risk factors for injury. There are acute risk factors and chronic risk factors. Acute risk factors are those that increase the risk that the occupant will sustain an acute injury, and chronic risk factors are those that will increase the likely hood that a person will develop permanent injury or disability.
In order to help prevent a whiplash injury from occurring, we try to reduce the known risk factors for acute injury listed below. Some we can change, others not. The more the risk factors, the more likely one can become injured.
- Female – women have twice the risk as men.
- Females weighing less than 130 pounds
- Tall females
- Head restraint below head’s center of gravity (see previous blog on proper head restraint position)
- History of previous whiplash or prior neck injury
- Rear-end crash as opposed to frontal or side impact
- Use of seat belt/shoulder harness restraint (even though seat belt use is the biggest safety device, it can cause injury)
- Body mass index/head neck index (decreased risk with increased mass and neck size)
- Poor head restraint geometry
- Out of position occupant (like leaning forward increasing the distance between head and head restraint)Head turned at impact (adding rotational forces along with the compression/tension/shear forces)
- Non-awareness of impact (brace with foot on brake, head back against head restraint, hands near bottom of steering wheel)
- Increasing age
- Front vs. rear seat position (worse in front seat)
- Rear-ended by vehicle with greater mass than yours
- Crash velocity under 10 mph (cars have been made stiffer to meet crash tests, no crush to car which absorbs energy, therefore energy transferred to occupant)
Obviously we cannot change some of these risk factors. Some risk has been reduced with specialized seats like WHIP seats in Volvo’s. Females, since they are twice as likely to suffer whiplash injuries, should take into consideration the safety features of cars they may be purchasing. For taller women, they should consider a larger car than a sub compact car, because these undergo a much greater acceleration when rear-ended by another car. Look for top rated safety features when it comes to whiplash protection.
If you have any questions about reducing your risk for whiplash injury, or if you or someone you know are suffering a whiplash injury, give us a call and we would be glad to help you.