Keep Your Head On Straight During an Accident

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Medics wearing neck corset to an injured man sitting in the car after the road accident, providing emergency medical assistance

“Keep Your Head on Straight!”

I listen daily to a multitude of information from patients giving me the details of a car accident.  The vehicle was totaled, no damage, flipped, reared, hit head on, t-boned, sideswiped etc. These are all key details that allow me to start to understand the injuries they have received. I am often showed multiple pictures of the damage and given insurance estimates for cost.  One of the most important aspects of the accident is often left out.  As a treating doctor, I want to know what you were doing at that specific moment of impact.  Did you know the accident was about to occur or was it a complete surprise? Did you hear brakes and glance at the side or rear-view mirror?  Were you turned around interacting with kids in the back? All of these will significantly impact how your body responds to an abrupt collision and how much damage your body will incur.

Common misconceptions patients often have is that there are less severe injuries if they were unaware of the accident.  Patients also assume that because they braced at the moment of impact their injuries are worse.  It is during a patient exam we find the opposite to be true. If you know an accident is about to occur and anticipate by bracing for impact, your body can sustain a more severe impact. Bracing before impact can result in more strain to the muscle structure but the bodies core structure, bone, ligaments, discs, will be able to withstand more severe impact before damage. The acceleration forces from impact happen within the first milliseconds, so if the head is unable to adapt quick then more damage will occur.   If you can brace properly before this happens the severity of injury will decrease.

Head position in an accident can play a key role in how much your neck is going to hurt and how long it will hurt. The curve of our neck will offer protection from impact if it is positioned correctly.  I like to think of the force delivered into the neck from an accident compared to the force delivered into a nail if hit by a hammer. Nails are designed to be straight so the force from a hammer drives straight through the nail and allows you to hammer it in.  If you attempt to hit a curved nail the success of driving that nail into an object decreases. The cervical spine has a built-in suspension of bones and discs and is designed with its own curve. This allows the force from the head to be dispersed in the neck and not drive down directly into the bones and discs. If there is a natural curve in the neck and you brace forward with the arms, but you also tuck your chin you have just taken that natural curve out and your opportunity to sustain disc damage increases. If you know that the accident is coming, and you know to keep your head straight or slightly tilted back you can decrease serious injuries up to 40%.

We can see that placing the head in a neutral or slightly extended position can decrease serious injury, but what does looking to one side or the other do?  A rotated neck can result in more injuries.  Your neck is built to move a certain amount of distance.  If the neck is already turned and you then get rear ended, the neck will move beyond that distance. The weight of the head is going to quickly force your head and neck to turn at such a fast rate, you will not have time to react causing more severe damage.  If the head is rotated 45% at moment of impact, the ligaments and discs of the neck are more likely to rupture.

The ideal situation is being aware of a motor vehicle impact just before it happens.  You have time to brace by tightening up the muscles of the back and neck, look straight ahead and don’t tuck your chin.  You may end up with more muscle strain, but your core structures will hold up better long term.  Have your injuries looked at by a qualified healthcare professional whether you think you are injured or not.

Aaron Workman, DC

If you or somebody you know has been in a car accident, be sure that you seek medical attention from a car accident doctor or car accident chiropractor to treat your injuries. Visit Chambers Medical Group  to receive world-class medical treatment for your injuries.

Chambers Medical Group has car accident medical clinics in the following locations:

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