The response of human volunteers to rear-end impacts: the effect of head restraint properties

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2001 Nov 15;26(22):2432-40; discussion 2441-2. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200111150-00007.


Study design: Human volunteers were subjected to a rear-end impact while sitting on a standard automobile seat, and sagittal plane kinematic responses were quantified. The effect of changing head restraint properties was determined by use of a repeated measures design.

Objective: To determine the forces acting, and relative motions resulting, on volunteers in a rear-end impact and the effect of head restraint properties.

Summary of background data: In several recent studies of the kinematics of the cervical spine during rear-end impact, a forward thrust to the lower cervical spine was produced, and a transient S shape of the spine resulted while the head remained upright during the initial phase of the impact. This may result in nonphysiologic intervertebral motions and tissue strains.

Methods: Nineteen automobile seats were first tested, and a modified head restraint was designed. Each volunteer sitting on a standard vehicle seat was subjected to an impact pulse of 3g with a 4-kph speed change. Testing was performed first with the modified head restraint, then again after replacement by the head restraint that came with the seat. Kinematic responses were compared for both head restraints by use of a repeated measures analysis of variance.

Results: There was a measurable time difference between peak chest and peak head accelerations, which resulted in the chest being thrust forward by the seat back before the head was thrust forward by the head restraint. The modified head restraint significantly reduced the contact time difference and therefore decreased the relative chest-to-head forward motion.

Conclusions: Volunteers seated on a standard automobile seat demonstrated differential sagittal plane motion between the chest and head. It is possible to significantly decrease the relative chest-to-head motion by altering the characteristics of the head restraint.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Head
  • Head Protective Devices*
  • Humans
  • Infant Equipment*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion
  • Thorax
  • Whiplash Injuries / prevention & control*