Effect of head rotation in whiplash-type rear impacts

Spine J. 2005 Mar-Apr;5(2):130-9. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2004.10.042.


Background context: Knowledge is increasing about the electromyographic and kinematic response of the neck muscles to rear impact, and also recent information is available on the effect of a rear impact offset to the left (posterolateral). The effect of head rotation, however, at the time of rear impact is not known.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of head rotation to the left and right on the cervical muscle response to increasing low-velocity posterolateral impacts.

Study design/setting: Twenty healthy volunteers were subjected to rear impacts of 4.7, 8.3, 10.9 and 13.7 m/s2 acceleration, offset by 45 degrees to the subject's left, with head rotation to right and left.

Methods: Bilateral electromyograms of the sternocleidomastoids, trapezii and splenii capitis were recorded. Triaxial accelerometers recorded the acceleration of the sled, torso at the shoulder level, and head of the participant.

Results: With the head rotated to the right, at an acceleration of 13.7 m/s2, the left sternocleidomastoid generated 59% and the right sternocleidomastoid 20% of their maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) electromyogram (EMG). Under these conditions, the remaining muscles (both splenii capitis and trapezius) generated 25% or less of their MVC. With the head rotated to the left, at an acceleration of 13.7 m/s2, the right sternocleidomastoid generated 65% and the left sternocleidomastoid only 11% of the MVC EMG. Under these conditions, again the remaining muscles had low EMG activity (27% or less) with the exception of the left trapezius which generated 47% of its MVC. Electromyographic variables were significantly affected by the levels of acceleration (p<.01). The time to onset and time to peak EMG for all muscles progressively decreased with increasing levels of acceleration, for both head rotation conditions. The kinetic variables and the electromyographic variables regressed significantly on the acceleration (p<.01).

Conclusions: Direction of impact is a factor in determining the muscle response to whiplash, but head rotation at the time of impact is also important in this regard. More specifically, when a rear impact is left posterolateral, it results in increased EMG generation mainly in the contralateral sternocleidomastoid, as expected, but head rotation at the same time in this type of impact reduces the EMG response of the cervical muscles. Muscle injury seems less likely under these conditions in low-velocity impacts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Adult
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Head Movements / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Neck Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Shoulder / physiopathology
  • Whiplash Injuries / etiology
  • Whiplash Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Whiplash Injuries / prevention & control