Finite element modeling of potential cervical spine pain sources in neutral position low speed rear impact

J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. 2014 May:33:55-66. doi: 10.1016/j.jmbbm.2013.01.006. Epub 2013 Feb 4.


The rate of soft tissue sprain/strain injuries to the cervical spine and associated cost continue to be significant; however, the physiological nature of this injury makes experimental tests challenging while aspects such as occupant position and musculature may contribute to significant variability in the current epidemiological data. Several theories have been proposed to identify the source of pain associated with whiplash. The goal of this study was to investigate three proposed sources of pain generation using a detailed numerical model in rear impact scenarios: distraction of the capsular ligaments; transverse nerve root compression through decrease of the intervertebral foramen space; and potential for damage to the disc based on the extent of rotation and annulus fibre strain. There was significant variability associated with experimental measures, where the range of motion data overlapped ultimate failure data. Average data values were used to evaluate the model, which was justified by the use of average mechanical properties within the model and previous studies demonstrating predicted response and failure of the tissues was comparable to average response values. The model predicted changes in dimension of the intervertebral foramen were independent of loading conditions, and were within measured physiological ranges for the impact severities considered. Disc response, measured using relative rotation between intervertebral bodies, was below values associated with catastrophic failure or avulsion but exceeded the average range of motion values. Annulus fibre strains exceeded a proposed threshold value at three levels for 10g impacts. Capsular ligament strain increased with increasing impact severity and the model predicted the potential for injury at impact severities from 4g to 15.4g, when the range of proposed distraction corresponding to sub-catastrophic failure was exceeded, in agreement with the typically reported values of 9-15g. This study used an enhanced neck finite element model with active musculature to investigate three potential sources of neck pain resulting from rear impact scenarios and identified capsular ligament strain and deformation of the disc as potential sources of neck pain in rear impact scenarios.

Keywords: Cervical spine; Finite element method; Injury; Ligament damage; Whiplash associated disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Finite Element Analysis*
  • Forensic Sciences*
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / injuries
  • Mechanical Phenomena*
  • Neck Pain / etiology*
  • Neck Pain / physiopathology*
  • Posture*
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Whiplash Injuries / complications
  • Whiplash Injuries / physiopathology