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Safety on the Road

Various public information campaigns in recent decades have stressed the importance of seat belts to reduce injury in motor vehicle accidents. Chiropractors frequently see the results of such accidents both with and without seatbelts.

The most commonly seen injury from motor vehicle accidents is the "whiplash" injury involving the neck and often the upper and lower back as well. While seatbelts themselves do not prevent whiplash injury, accidents in which the driver and passengers are not wearing seatbelts often result in whiplash compounded by additional injury. If the head strikes the window, mirror, steering wheel or dashboard, head injuries are added to the whiplash. In such a case the damage to the neck is also aggravated by the force of a blow to the head.

Without a seatbelt, the knees may hit the dashboard, causing damage to the lower back and pelvis. If the shoulder strikes the side of the car, shoulder, upper back and neck injuries may result.

The importance of proper restraints for infants and children cannot be overstressed. For some reason, there are those who feel the child is at less risk than an adult in an accident. In fact, because their weight is not enough to anchor them, children can become airborne projectiles in even low impact collisions. The potential for serious harm is very great.

If a child is in the car when an accident occurs, it is as important to have them checked for whiplash injury as it is for an adult. The effects of whiplash often do not appear in adults for weeks or months. In children, who are more flexible and adaptable, the effects may not be apparent for years. Such problems can often be corrected before they cause any pain or disability with a spinal examination and correction.

There has been a great deal of controversy regarding high impact deployment of air bags, and concern that they may cause injury. However, at the speeds at which they are designed to deploy, the life-threatening injuries they prevent usually far outweigh any injury they might cause. The exception to this is small children, who should be always in the back seat, and adults of very small stature, for whom it may be advisable to disable the airbag if they are the drivers.

For maximum protection for you and your family, make it a habit to always wear your seatbelt, to make sure your children are adequately restrained, and to adjust your headrest to the proper height. Remember, your spine must last you a lifetime. 

One thing which can be done to decrease the damage to the spine in an accident is to adjust the headrest to the proper height. This is a precaution which is often overlooked. A headrest which is too low will actually increase the injury by providing a pivot over which the neck will bend backwards in a rear-end collision. The center of the headrest should be at the level of the ear, providing firm support for the head. While driving, the head should be no more than two inches away from the headrest. This will minimize the distance the head must travel before it is supported and thus decrease the stress on the joints of the neck. If there are more than two inches between the head and the headrest, this is often because the seat is tilted back too far. For comfort and safety as well as good posture, the seat should be as upright as possible.

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