Friday, September 26, 2008
Medical Reports: Whiplash
One of the great fears of driving is getting into an accident. But now there may be a way to protect yourself from one of the most common accident-related injuries, whiplash. In today's Healthcast, Seven's Christine Cruz shows us what some researchers say may save you from more than a little pain in the neck.
WSVN -- Paula Winchel: "A car or truck was actually coming really fast behind me, and there was nowhere I could go."
More than 10 years after her car was rear-ended, Paula Winchel still feels the pain.
Paula Winchell: "I have a lot of intense pain, at times, where I get headaches."
And she's not alone. More than three million Americans suffer from whiplash each year. Biomedical Engineer Dr. Brian Stemper has studied whiplash injuries for a decade. His goal is to find the best way to protect people behind the wheel.
Brian Stemper, Ph.D. Biomedical Engineer: "Originally, we thought that the whiplash was a hyper extension injury where the head rotates backward relative to the thorax, and that leads to a stretching in the soft tissues of the spine."
Now he says extensive crash tests and computer modeling show whiplash happens before the head rotates backward. This means the answer could lie in where you rest your head.
Brian Stemper: "The goal in whiplash is to minimize the relative motion between the head and your chest."
Research shows headrest position on your car seat is crucial. If placed level with the top of your head, and two inches or less from the back of your head, it can prevent whiplash by limiting head movement.
Brian Stemper: It's going to minimize the motions, the relative motions between your head and your chest, which will cut down on the forces in the cervical spine in that rear impact.
Researchers also found, in a similar impact, women's spines move more than men's, making women five to 10 percent more susceptible to whiplash.
Paula Winchel: "When they're coming up fast behind me, I definitely get nervous."
Despite her nerves, she's still on the road, but now Paula has made the adjustments to protect herself whenever she's in the driver's seat.
Doctor Stemper is working with automakers and says they're already taking steps to develop head restraints that help prevent whiplash injuries, but, he says, even if your car doesn't have that new equipment, taking a few minutes to adjust your headrest can keep you safer in a rear-end collision.