What Occupant Kinematics and Neuromuscular Responses Tell Us About Whiplash Injury

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Study Design.

Literature-based review.


To review the published data on occupant kinematic and neuromuscular responses during low-speed impacts and analyze how these data inform our understanding of whiplash injury.

Summary of Background Data.

A stereotypical kinematic and neuromuscular response has been observed in human subjects exposed to rear-end impacts. Combined with various models of injury, these response data have been used to develop anti-whiplash seats that prevent whiplash injury in many, but not all, individuals exposed to a rear-end crash.


Synthesis of the literature.


Understanding of the occupant kinematics and neuromuscular responses, combined with data from various seat-related interventions, have shown that differential motion between the superior and inferior ends of the cervical spine is responsible for many whiplash injuries. The number of whiplash injuries not prevented by current anti-whiplash seats suggests than further work remains, possibly related to designing seats that respond dynamically to the occupant and collision properties. Neck muscles alter the head and neck kinematics during the interval in which injury likely occurs, even in initially relaxed occupants. It remains unclear whether muscle activation mitigates or exacerbates whiplash injury. If muscle activation mitigates injury, then advance warning could be used to help occupant tense their muscles before impact. Alternatively, if muscle activation exacerbates whiplash injury, then a loud preimpact sound that uncouples the startle and postural components of the muscle response could reduce peak muscle activation during a whiplash exposure.


Our improved understanding of whiplash injury has led to anti-whiplash seats that have prevented many whiplash injuries. Further work remains to optimize these and possibly other systems to further reduce the number of whiplash injuries.

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