How to Minimise or Prevent Whiplash

Can You Prevent Whiplash?

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury which results from sudden acceleration-deceleration forces on the neck. The term encompasses a variety of issues affecting muscles, joints, bones, ligaments, discs, and nerves.

Whiplash incidence reporting is subject to numerous factors such as traffic congestion, psychosocial factors, and litigation. Whilst some of these factors may be out of your control adjusting your headrest appropriately can significantly reduce your risk!

What is the Prevalence of Whiplash?

  • In an Australian study estimated prevalence is 3.8 drivers per every 1000 [1]
  • In the United States, there are up to 1 million cases per annum [2]
  • Approximately 250000 cases each year are reported in the United Kingdom [3]

Can You Prevent Whiplash?

The best way to prevent whiplash is to purchase a car with a good safety rated head restraint and to fit it correctly. Studies have shown 72-86% of head restraints are fitted incorrectly [4]. It is important to note that correct head restraint fitting does not mean one-size-fits-all. If you and your partner share the driving of your car it is important to note that the adjusts may vary significantly.

Understanding the Relationship Between Seat and Headrest

The image below shows an incorrectly (top row) and correctly (bottom row) adjusted seat and head restraint set up.


Image source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute

During a rear-ending motor vehicle collision your car chassis is propelled forward faster then you are. Your back will first be impacted by the car seat. If your head and neck are not positioned correctly (see the top row of above image) your neck will be much more likely to sustain a whiplash injury. If your seat and headrest are adjusted well your back and neck will move in unison (see the bottom row of above image) and significantly reduce your likelihood of acquiring whiplash.

Is Your Headrest Adjusted Correctly?

Follow these steps to ensure your headrest is adjusted correctly

  1. Set the incline of your seat to approximately 20 degrees past vertical
  2. Position the headrest so the top of the restraint is level with the top of your head
  3. Ensure the headrest is no further than 5cm from the back of your head.


Whilst fitting your headrest appropriately is crucial to whiplash prevention knowing more about the safety of your vehicle and driving to conditions further reduces your risk. Your physiotherapist can review your car’s specific ergonomics upon request.

For more advice, please consult your doctor or physiotherapist.

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