This study explores the inertial effects of the head and torso on cervical spine dynamics with the specific goal of determining whether the head mass can provide a constraining cervical spine end condition. The hypothesis was tested using a low friction impact surface and a pocketing foam impact surface. Impact orientation was also varied. Tests were conducted on whole unembalmed heads and cervical spines using a drop track system to produce impact velocities on the order of 3.2 ms−1. Data for the head impact forces and the reactions at T1 were recorded and the tests were also imaged at 1000 frames s−1.
Injuries occurred 2–19 ms following head impact and prior to significant head motion. Average compressive load a failure was 1727 ± 387 N. Decoupling was observed between the head and T1. Cervical spine loading due to head rebound constituted up to 54 ± 16% of the total axial neck load for padded impacts and up to 38 ± 30% of the total axial neck load for rigid impacts. Dynamic buckling was also observed; including first-order modes and transient higher-order modes which shifted the structure from a primarily compressive mode of deformation to various bending modes.
These experiments demonstrate that in the absence of head pocketing, the head mass can provide sufficient constraint to cause cervical spine injury. The results also show that cervical spinal injury dynamics are complex, and that a large sample size of experimentally produced injuries will be necessary to develop comprehensive neck injury models and criteria.