Most likely a car accident was involved. Also likely is the fact that the head rest or more accurately, head restraint, was not in proper position. Poorly designed and improperly positioned head restraints are major reasons for whiplash injuries.
In Canada, whiplash injuries in car accidents account for 25 per cent of the cost of insurance premiums and over 70 per cent of automobile injury claims to insurance companies. The cost in the four western provinces is estimated to be more than $1.1 billion per year.
Whiplash occurs when the head and neck snap forward and then back. Soft tissue, muscle, tendon and ligament injury result. This injury can be short lived or persist for months or years. There is no specific treatment that is proven to reduce or eliminate the effects of a whiplash injury. These effects can include pain, decreased range of motion, decreased sleep due to pain and possibly pain referred to other parts of the back. Proper positioning of the head restraint can help reduce the episodes and severity of whiplash injuries.
There are many reasons. There is more traffic on the roads today and drivers are driving faster. This combination increases the likelihood of collision. Add to this, cars that have head rests that are either too low or are not there at all and the risk increases.
Over 70 per cent of cars have adjustable head restraints but as many as 90 per cent of these are used incorrectly. With the restraint too low, the neck snaps back and over it causing injury. Proper positioning of head restraints would reduce whiplash injuries by 30 to 50 per cent.
If you think these numbers have no meaning, try the following exercise. First examine the position of your own head restraint. Next examine the positions of the restraints of your passengers. Finally, the next time you are waiting at a red light, examine the head restraints in the cars around you. Some of these people, many of whom you love or know by name, will suffer neck injuries due to poor head restraint positioning. They won’t just be anonymous numbers or statistics.
Head restraints have been a required safety feature in cars since 1969, but laws in Canada and the United States to make them protect us better have been slow in coming. Countries in Europe have laws that specify the size and height adjustment of head restraints.
Several car manufacturers are working on making better head restraints. Saab and Volvo, who are among the leaders in car safety, are working on new designs. General Motors is working with other companies to make an electronic system that determines the height of the person in the seat and adjusts the restraint to accommodate the occupant.
In Alberta, a program developed by family doctors, chiropractors and physiotherapists of Alberta along with the Alberta Motor Association and Regional Health Authorities is aimed at reducing whiplash injuries. The program is a simple one, called 'Save Your Neck, Raise Your Head Restraint.' The goal is to get every driver and passenger of a car or truck to position head restraints properly.
It should be automatic that when a driver gets into a car, along with checking the mirror, adjusting the seat and hooking up the seat belt, the position of the head restraint is also checked.
Not only the public but also the police, car manufacturers and government should be aware of the importance of head restraints. As with seat belts, car manufacturers should make safer head restraints, governments should pass, and the police enforce, legislation requiring their use.
Health professionals, like doctors, physiotherapists or chiropractors should also understand the importance of head restraint position and can then advise their patients as part of an injury prevention program.
Until safer features are widely available, how do you position your head restraint to reduce the risk of whiplash injury? First, your head restraint should be as high as the top of your head. The middle of the restraint will be even with the middle or top of yours ears. Second, the head restraint should be close to the back of your head. To achieve this, adjust your seat and restraint to accommodate your spine and head. Anything farther than about five centimetres from the back of your head to the restraint is too far.
When you buy a new car, you should check out the effectiveness of the head restraints. Make sure they are adjustable and come up high enough to protect the head in the event of an accident. The restraints should lock in place. If they do not, they may drop to the lowest position during an accident. If this occurs there is no protection for the head and the likelihood of a whiplash injury increases.
Education and correct use of head restraints can help reduce human suffering and disability associated with whiplash injuries. As a result, the cost to the public, both physical and financial, can be reduced. This program of education will reduce the costs associated with the treatment of whiplash injuries - the costs to the health care system, the costs to the insurance companies and the costs to the patient. Industry can see savings due to fewer days lost due to whiplash injuries.
Prevent whiplash by using your head restraint properly.