Seatbelts Increase Whiplash Injury

Seatbelts: Click It or Ticket!

“Click It Or Ticket!” is a common sign seen on the interstate highways reminding you that in most states the law requires you to wear your seatbelt. The main reason: it saves lives!

Various reports tell us that wearing a seatbelt (including shoulder belt) can drastically reduce the chance of an accident fatality as well as moderate to severe injuries. Some also report that the risk of being killed is five times greater when not wearing a seatbelt.

Seatbelts Can Increase Injury

Wearing a seatbelt can save lives, however, it has caused an increase of injuries in mild to moderate impacts. The activation of the seatbelt increases the force that is directed to the neck, shoulder and chest.

This is especially true for children. Seatbelts were designed for the adult body. Without a booster seat the lap belt is higher on the child’s stomach potentially affecting the low back. It also crosses closer to the lower part of the throat, potentially affecting the neck.

Mechanism Of Injury

The typical whiplash producing collision is when one vehicle is struck from behind. This impact can have a significant affect on the occupants of the car especially if wearing a seatbelt.

In this scenario, the force produced by the collision is transferred through the victim’s car, causing their seat to move forward while the victims upper back and head are forced backwards. This motion initially causes injury to the middle and lower neck.

When the victim’s head strikes their headrest, it is then catapulted forward rapidly forcing the neck into flexion (head is bent forward). It is at this point where the seatbelt can increase the whiplash injury.

As the head is rapidly flexed forward, the chest and upper body are thrown against the shoulder belt. When the belt engages, it stops one shoulder and causes the head, neck and upper body on the opposite side to pivot around the belt. For instance, if it is the driver, they are thrown forward; as the shoulder belt engages stopping the left shoulder, it causes the right shoulder and neck to continue forward pivoting over the belt to the left.

This process can increase the force placed on the neck, shoulder and chest. This mechanism produces an increased stretching and tearing of muscles and ligaments on the right side of the neck while producing compression or jamming of joints on the left side of the neck. Further, the left shoulder can suffer compression injuries to the collarbone, AC joint or actual shoulder joint itself.

The result of these injuries can be shoulder pain, immobility, numbness and tingling in the hands, as well as the common symptoms associated with whiplash such as neck pain, headaches, and dizziness. Left untreated, many of these injuries can result in long-term pain and disability with an increased risk of joint degeneration.

So, while seatbelts can save lives in the lower force impacts, they can actually increase the injury to the neck and shoulders. Because of the dynamics of the seatbelt increasing the force on the neck and shoulder, minor whiplash injuries should be examined carefully by a qualified chiropractor.

If you have been involved in an accident, even a minor one, you owe it to yourself to get a thorough exam by Dr. Adam Elsey.  Call (314) 731-4201 to schedule an appointment today.