Whiplash injuries continue to have significant societal cost; however, the mechanism and location of whiplash injury is still under investigation. Recently, the upper cervical spine ligaments, particularly the alar ligament, have been identified as a potential whiplash injury location. In this study, a detailed and validated explicit finite element model of a 50th percentile male cervical spine in a seated posture was used to investigate upper cervical spine response and the potential for whiplash injury resulting from vehicle crash scenarios. This model was previously validated at the segment and whole spine levels for both kinematics and soft tissue strains in frontal and rear impact scenarios. The model predicted increasing upper cervical spine ligament strain with increasing impact severity. Considering all upper cervical spine ligaments, the distractions in the apical and alar ligaments were the largest relative to their failure strains, in agreement with the clinical findings. The model predicted the potential for injury to the apical ligament for 15.2 g frontal or 11.7 g rear impacts, and to the alar ligament for a 20.7 g frontal or 14.4 g rear impact based on the ligament distractions. Future studies should consider the effect of initial occupant position on ligament distraction.
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