A Day in the Life of a Crash Test Dummy

Crash test dummies. You probably don’t think about them very much (if at all), but you may owe them much more than you realize when it comes to your health and safety on the nation’s roads. Automobile makers use crash test dummies—that is, inanimate, human-like mannequins—to simulate the type and scale of injury that may occur in an automobile accident. Car and truck manufacturers go to great lengths to design and build safe vehicles, and these “full-scale anthropomorphic test devices” or “ADTs” take a real beating day after day as they provide data regarding velocity of impact, crushing force, bending, folding, or torque of the body, as well as deceleration rates during test collisions.

U.S., car accidents kill more than 30,000 people each year and injure many more. However, manufacturers work continually to make cars safer and accidents more survivable through crash-testing programs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 1994 to 2009, the fatality rate decreased from 23 to 16 fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers. Crash test dummies have played an important part in that achievement as a result of their role in car testing and design.  They’ve also played an important part in reducing the severity of auto accident injuries.

In order to survive a car accident and walk away with minimal injuries, drivers and passengers must be able to withstand the changes in kinetic energy that occur when bodies in motion suddenly come to a stop or when bodies at rest are suddenly accelerated. A car’s safety features, including seat belts and air bags, are made to help mitigate the damage that these abrupt changes can cause to the human body. Crash test dummies allow safety engineers to identify how the changes in kinetic energy caused by car crashes affect the human body and its musculoskeletal system. Researchers use this data to identify areas where changes could improve a car’s safety rating. Additionally, the data is useful to gauge the effectiveness of these improvements once they have been made.

Anthropomorphic test devices, or ATDs, have become enormously sophisticated since the first crash test dummy was created. Dubbed Sierra Sam, the first ATD was made in 1949 to test how ejection seats in aircraft affected people. Today’s crash test dummies are designed to simulate human anatomy in great detail, and to respond as the human body would respond to the forces and impacts generated by auto accidents. Using a wide variety of advanced materials and sensor technologies, they can tell a researcher what types of injuries would likely have been sustained by vehicle occupants in a crash—anything from surface skin abrasions and contusions to soft tissue damage, broken bones and life-threatening internal injuries.

Combined with sensors in the test car itself and an array of slow-motion video cameras, ATDs have helped designers and engineers understand better than ever before exactly what happens in different kinds of accidents so that they can protect vehicle drivers and passengers. And there’s no doubt they’re very valuable members of the safety team—they can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000!

ATDs are built in a variety of shapes and sizes to mimic human differences. However, they’re also used in ways that allow carefully controlled testing from crash scenario to crash scenario and from vehicle to vehicle. Before each test, engineers paint different parts of the crash test dummy’s body with different colors, allowing them to identify how each part of the body impacts parts of the vehicle’s interior.

Car accidents can be particularly hard on the musculoskeletal system—injuries to the back, neck, and extremities are common. Unfortunately, many of these injuries may go undetected immediately after a collision, when adrenalin is flowing and participants are generally eager to leave the scene and move on with their lives. Symptoms may appear days, weeks or even months afterward. Plus the injuries sustained in a car crash may cause a host of ongoing health complications, such as recurring headaches, neck stiffness, TMJ, dizziness and chronic back pain as well as reduced mobility.

Chiropractic physicians are specially trained to diagnose and treat the types of musculoskeletal injuries that many people suffer as a result of care accidents. If you or someone you care about has been involved in a car accident, it’s very important that they receive a prompt medical evaluation from a qualitied healthcare professional—even if they feel fine or are only experiencing minor symptoms. Detecting injuries as soon as possible often allows auto accident victims to recover more quickly and more completely, with less pain and less disability.

Are You a Whiplash Patient? Here’s What You Should Know

You’re not alone.  Whiplash associated disorders (WAD) are very common neck injuries caused by a rapid distortion of the cervical vertebrae.  Such distortion occurs when the head undergoes a sudden stop while moving at speed, jarring the muscles and ligaments of the neck, which move forwards and backwards quickly.  Whiplash is most typically associated with motor vehicle accidents but may also occur in contact sports and as the result of falls from bicycles, chairs and horses.

It’s a matter of anatomy, physiology and physics.  There is a good reason that the neck is especially vulnerable to this type of injury.  The adult human head weighs 10-11 pounds (about 5 kilograms).  At rest, this weight is comfortably supported by the bones and muscles of the neck.  However, rapid movement backward and forward puts a much larger load on the cervical vertebrae and ligaments holding them in place.  The anterior longitudinal ligament that runs down the back of the spine is particularly at risk of stretching or tearing during a rapid collision.

Getting the right help quickly can make a big difference.  In many cases, the injuries sustained during an auto or sports accident are not immediately apparent.  Musculoskeletal injuries to the neck, back, hips and shoulders might not show any symptoms until days, weeks or even months after the initial trauma.  Therefore, it is important to seek a medical evaluation immediately after your accident even if you do not feel seriously hurt at that moment.  We know based on the research and from our own clinical experience that your recovery will be faster and more complete if problems are diagnosed and treated early.

No two whiplash cases are exactly the same.  The symptoms of whiplash associated disorders range from mild neck pain for a few days after the injury to headaches, arm pain and long-term restricted movement of the neck.  Studies have shown that whiplash injuries can also constrict blood flow to the brain, leading to light-headedness, poor concentration and fatigue.

Since 1995, the Québec Task Force (QTF) scale has been widely used to assess the severity of WAD and how they should be treated.  The grading scale works like this:

0          No complaint about the neck.  No physical signs.
I           Neck complaint of pain, stiffness or tenderness only.  No physical signs.
II          Neck complaint and musculoskeletal signs.  Musculoskeletal signs include decreased
range of motion and point tenderness.
III         Neck complaint and neurological signs.  Neurological signs include decreased or absent
deep tendon reflexes, weakness and sensory deficits.
IV         Neck complaint and fracture or dislocation.

In addition to grading the injury based on your symptoms, a chiropractic physician can assess the injury by performing a thorough examination, palpating the affected area and observing your neck movement and any associated pain.

You have choices.  There are several treatment options available, and your chiropractor will make his or her recommendations based on the nature and severity of your injuries.  WAD often responds well to a combination of therapies, including chiropractic manipulation/mobilization, hot and cold treatment, cold laser and structured exercise and stretching programs designed to restore a full range of motion.

Pain medication may be required for grade II injuries and above (usually NSAIDs to reduce inflammation but narcotic pain relief may sometimes be prescribed for grade III WAD) and collars may also be used to keep the neck in place for 72 hours after grade II and III injuries to give the muscles and ligaments time to recover.

Grade IV whiplash (involving fractures or dislocation) is a serious injury and your chiropractor will likely refer you to another medial specialist for treatment based on the exact circumstances.  For this type of injury, treatment is likely to consist of several months of neck immobilization and possibly surgery.  Most whiplash injuries are much less serious than this and are more likely to be a cause of pain and discomfort than a true medical emergency.

Your injury may require a team approach.  Depending on the nature of your injury, a chiropractic physician may recommend a team approach to treatment that incorporates other healthcare disciplines, potentially including neurology, therapeutic massage and physical therapy.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from chronic neck or back pain due to an auto, sports or work accident (even one that happened some time ago), there are ways to help relieve the symptoms and restore function.  Our goal is always to help our patients recover as quickly and completely as possible so that they can return to an active lifestyle.  We encourage you to call or visit our office to learn more. We’re here to help!

Automobile Safety Tip: Driver’s Seat Position

As anyone who has a long commute to work or drives for a living can tell you, driving can take a toll on your body, especially your back!

Being behind the wheel for extended periods of time can put a lot of stress on the spine, since the normal lumbar curve can easily be affected the typical driving position.  Add to that the bumping and jostling from traveling over uneven road surfaces and speed bumps and you’ve got a recipe for back pain.  Following are a few tips that will help you minimize the risk of recurring or chronic back pain by adjusting your driver’s seat to the optimal placement for driving.

  1. Position yourself properly in the seat.  To do this, ensure that you are sitting as far back in the seat as possible, so that your buttocks are almost wedged between the bottom cushion and the seat back.
  2. Adjust the distance between the seat and steering wheel.  Move the seat forward so you can fully depress both the brake and (if necessary) the clutch, while still keeping your knees slightly bent.  Your leg should ideally maintain an angle of approximately 120 degrees.  If your leg is either too straight or at a 90-degree angle, your seat needs to be moved either closer or further back.
  3. Adjust the tilt of the seat.  Tilt your seat forward or backward until you feel that your leg from hip to knee is fully supported while having your foot on the gas pedal, without feeling that the seat is pressing uncomfortably into the back of your leg.
  4. Adjust the back of the seat.  Your seat should be at an angle that fully supports the length of your back.  It should not be reclined too far, as this can cause you to have to bend your head and neck forward at an angle in order to see the road ahead.
  5. Move the steering wheel.  You should move the steering wheel toward you until it is close enough for your hands to reach the standard 10 and 2 position, while keeping your arms slightly bent.  Having it too close can be dangerous in an accident, but you also don’t want it so far away that you are straining to reach it.  It should be tilted at an angle so your hands are just a little lower than your shoulders while resting on the wheel.
  6. Adjust the head restraint.  The bottom of the head restraint should be level with the base of your skull and should be about an inch from your head while driving in order to help prevent whiplash in the event of an accident.

If your car has a lumbar support feature, adjust it so it supports the lumbar area without pressing into your back. If you don’t have this feature, one or two rolled towels can be used to support the lumbar area.

Try to be sure your knee does not drop to the side while you drive, since this can cause some aggravation to the nerves in the lower back, which can in turn lead to pain in the hip, knee and foot.  Pull your knee in to keep it in line with your body.

If you’re the primary (or only) driver of a vehicle, many of these adjustments need to be made only once.  For the small investment of a few minutes of your time, you can reduce your risk of recurring or chronic back and neck pain.  Trust us, your back and neck will thank you!

Be safe out there!