Football helmets and automobile accidents

In an automobile accident you do not have a helmet to protect your head. Even the many safety devices built into vehicles will not prevent all injuries.

by Dr. Bill Gallagher — 

All too often, when patients say they were recently in an auto accident and are asked, “How are you?” they reply, “I am fine.” When asked, “How is the car?” the response is, “The car was totaled.”

Maybe they have read one too many comic books or maybe they are just so happy to be alive that they do not realize how poorly they are really feeling.

Even in a low speed collision at only eight mph, the vehicle accelerates at 2Gs or two times the force of gravity. At the same time, the head of the driver or passenger will accelerate at 5Gs (five times the force). At 15 mph, the driver’s head accelerates at 10Gs.

To put that in perspective, fighter pilots begin to pass out at 6Gs, and at 8Gs they cannot move. That is a lot of force that can cause a lot of damage. When your head moves with that much force, the odds of your brain smashing against the inside of your skull and causing a concussion increase.

Your 12- to 14-pound head also moves with such force and speed that the neck muscles cannot contract fast enough to protect it from injury. Seat belts and headrests can help, but they cannot prevent all the injuries that can and will happen in an accident.

So what does this have to do with football helmets? If you are a fan of the game, you know that if a player’s helmet comes off on the field, he has to come out of the game until he is checked for a concussion. If there was enough force to knock off a helmet, the team doctor needs to be sure the player did not suffer a concussion. Concussions can cause serious damage, and a second concussion in the same day doubles the risk of death.

In an automobile accident you do not have a helmet to protect your head. Even the many safety devices built into vehicles will not prevent all injuries. Research has shown that serious injury can occur at as low as 2.5 mph, while damage to the vehicle may not occur until 8.7 mph. Sometimes, even when there is no apparent external damage to the car, damage to its frame can occur. This will cause most insurance companies to total the car.

It is wonderful that football players are now checked out in order to rule out the damage of a concussion. If you have been in an accident, even when there is no damage to the vehicle, you would be wise to follow the same precautions.

The headaches, stiffness and anxiety you are feeling in the moment may not seem as important as the damage to your car, but these symptoms need to be addressed and treated properly.

The insurance company will pay to fix your car and make sure you receive the help you need. Do not be fooled into thinking you are stronger than steel. Even if the car is not totaled, the chance that you were injured is too great to ignore.


Dr. Bill Gallagher, a chiropractic physician, has been in practice 25 years with half of that here in the valley. He uses Directional Non-Force Technique and his research for the technique has led to improvements of adjustments in all areas of the body. or 480-664-6644.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 32, Number 1, February/March 2013.

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