Most physicians haven’t caught up to the ground breaking research of the late 90s to the early 2000s showing that neck injury in a car crash (whiplash) is often caused by injuries to the small joints known as facets. These little joints can become damaged as a weird “S-shaped” curve is forced on the neck by the seat back pushing the torso forward in a rear end collision. Now new research suggests that the way to avoid these injuries may not be by designing fancy seats, but instead installing a scary loud tone in the car.
Believe it or not, there are small joints in your neck about the size of your finger joints. They help control motion and act as an important parts of how your neck turns, flexes, extends, and bends. They also can get arthritis or get injured in a car crash, leading to everything from chronic neck pain to symptoms like headaches, upper back and arm pain.
We’ve known how these little neck joints get injured since 1999, so for about 15 years. Despite the research, many physicians don’t understand this injury mechanism, so the diagnosis often gets overlooked. While many physicians have been missing the boat, the average automotive engineer designing car seats and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “get it”, as seats this past decade have been designed to be safer and safer and reduce the risk of a neck injury. The first on the market was the Volvo WHIPS seat that had a breakaway c-clamp in the seat back that allowed it to “give” in a car crash, reducing that forward force on the torso that could cause the neck joints to get injured.
One of the engineers who’ve I’ve met that’s been leading the charge to understand how to prevent serious neck injuries is Gunter Siegmund. His new research seems to suggest that you can prevent serious neck injures by scaring someone just before the crash.The new study took subjects and exposed them to a simulated rear end crash while specialized electrodes were placed in their neck muscles to measure contractions during the crash. Half were exposed to a loud tone 1/4 second before the crash to cause their neck to tense. Sure enough, the subjects who got the loud tone had lower forces on the head and neck. Importantly, the authors thought that this pre-crash tone looked promising to help patients protect their facet joints.
The upshot? Perhaps installing a shrieking teenager in your car who can warn of impending collisions is all we need to avoid neck injury! In the meantime, this simple solution may just find it’s way into a Volvo sometime soon!