February 14, 2008

Research presented at the World Congress on Neck Pain shows that the proper use of well-engineered head restraints dramatically reduces serious neck injuries from automobile accidents.                        

The World Congress brought together health care experts on neck pain, automobile safety engineers, and others to review current best evidence about causes, prevention and clinical care for neck pain related whiplash injuries and other causes.

Neck pain after automobile collisions, commonly referred to as whiplash associated disorders, costs the insurance industry $9 billion annually in claims costs, and is considered an epidemic by many medical and insurance professionals. Yet many whiplash injuries could be minimized or prevented altogether by the proper engineering and/or adjustment and use of head restraints.

Head restraints are not head rests; they are essential safety devices which act to reduce the likelihood of sustaining a whiplash injury. Studies by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) have found that head restraints in more than 60 percent of car models fall short of current state-of-the art protection from neck injury or whiplash. They found that many head restraints were not high enough, or close enough to the back of an occupant’s head, to provide effective protection against neck injury in rear-end crashes. Even when the head restraint is well-engineered, people don’t always position them properly.

To reduce or prevent neck injury, the top of the restraint should be positioned even with the top of the head or at least to the top of the ears. The distance from the back of the head to the front of the restraint should be less than 4 inches.

In 2009, new vehicles sold in the U.S. will start meeting more rigorous structural standards for head restraints.

The Congress held January 20 through January 22 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles also launched the release of the 7-year study by The Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders.

“Neck pain is not a trivial condition for many people,” says Task Force President, Dr Scott Haldeman.  “It can be associated with headaches, arm and upper back pain and depression. Whether it arises from sports injuries, car accidents, workplace issues or stress, it can be incapacitating. Understanding the best way to diagnose and manage this problem is of high importance for those who are suffering and for those who manage and pay for its care.”
Primary study findings from the Task Force report revealed the following:

·       Health care providers can apply scientifically validated screening criteria to determine which patients with neck pain after auto accidents will have serious structural damage, and which need only temporary help with symptoms.

·       Once serious underlying conditions have been screened out, imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans are typically not needed, and will seldom identify the cause of neck pain.

·       Aging changes of the spine [commonly called degenerative changes], frequently seen on X-ray in middle age adults, are not predictive of neck pain.

For the majority of neck pain the following treatments show evidence of being effective for reducing symptoms: exercise, mobilization, manipulation, massage, acupuncture, low level laser therapy, analgesics. 

Prolonged treatment was not shown to be beneficial.  It was recommended that patients do not continue treatment that doesn’t provide improvement within a reasonable period of time, and instead seek out alternative treatment options.

The study revealed that the following treatments were unlikely to help in relieving neck pain: collars, ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, most injection therapies, radio frequency neurotomies. 

For further information on the findings of the Congress, neck pain treatment recommendations, current auto restraint ratings, or Congress abstracts:
http://www.neckpaincongress.org/media/MR6/ <http://www.neckpaincongress.org/media/MR6/>