Seat Belts: Strapping you with injuries or protecting your life?

statefarm- Creative Commons“Click it or ticket” is a common public safety slogan, but is wearing a seat belt enough to ward off major injuries in auto collisions? A new study from the Medical College of Wisconsin suggests that certain seat belts may actually influence your risk of spinal injuries.

Researchers used data collected between 1996 and 2011 through the Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network database. They evaluated the records of 4,572 auto injury patients who were moderately to severely injured in an auto accident.

Their analysis showed there was a difference between those who used a two-point seat belt versus a three-point  seat belt. The three-point restraints protected against neurological injury, fatality, and worse injuries.

However, in the auto accident, those who were wearing the three-point belts were three times more likely to have spinal fractures compared to those with the two-point belts. At the same time, two-point restraints were associated with a greater risk of flexion-distraction injuries. Passengers with no seat belts had the highest risk of  spinal fractures in the thoracic and lumbar areas as well as dislocations.

This tells us that in an auto accident, using belts will reduce injury severity and mortality. At the same time, it will increase the likelihood of a vertebral fracture in the thoracic and lumbar spine. The doctors also discovered that if the auto accident damaged the thoracic and lumbar spine, the patients’ injuries worsened. This was because they usually affected the abdomen and pelvis.

Another finding of the study was that age affected the nature of the spinal injury. Flexion-distraction injuries occur when the head moves towards the knees in the auto accident, typically harming the upper body. Extension injuries occur when the body bends backward. If the auto accident caused a flexion-distraction injury, the victim was usually a child or young adult. Those suffering from extension injuries were usually older adults with an average age of 65 years old, and were overweight. The auto accidents that caused extension injuries were the worst, as the fatality rate was almost 24%. Other auto accidents had a fatality rate of about 11%.

That means that older and overweight passengers had the highest risk of getting some of the worst spinal injuries in an auto accident. This adds to recent research showing that not only are overweight adults more likely to die in auto collisions,if they survive with an injury,they take longer to heal compared to adults with a healthy weight.

If you have been injured in an auto accident, seek proper medical and chiropractic care. Utilizing both together will help speed your recovery.

Photo courtesy of State Farm.


 Rao, R.D., et al. Occupant and crash characteristics in the thoracic and lumbar spine injuries resulting from motor vehicle collisions. Spine Journal 2014.