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Pain Research and Management
Volume 8 (2003), Issue 2, Pages 86-92

Pressure Aberrations inside the Spinal Canal During Rear-End Impact

K-U Schmitt,1,2 M Muser,2 P Niederer,1 and F Walz2

1lnstitute of Biomedical Engineering, University and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland
2Working Group on Accident Mechanics, University and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland

Copyright © 2003 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Minor soft tissue injuries of the cervical spine increasingly pose problems in public health. Such injuries are conveyed particularly often in rear-end automobile collisions at low impact speeds and it has been established that they may be associated with long-term impairment. As a possible cause for this type of injury it has been hypothesized that pressure pulses induced in cervical fluid compartments during the impact could damage the membrane of spinal nerve cells. To date, animal as well as cadaver experiments performed support this hypothesis. A theoretical analysis has been undertaken in order to investigate the pressure and flow pulse emerging in a cervical fluid compartment under conditions representing rear-end impacts with a äv of 15 km/h. Using the finite element (FE) method, a three-dimensional model of the cervical spine was developed. The model consists of eight vertebrae (C1-T1), the intervertebral discs, the intervertebral joints, all the major ligaments, most of the neck muscles and the head. Additionally, a typical venous blood vessel was included. To determine the pressure behaviour inside the blood vessel, fluid-structure interaction was taken into account. For the time interval including the development of the S-shape, the pressure pulses were calculated and found to be in qualitative agreement with the reported measurements. The shear stresses acting on the vessel wall can be determined from the associated flow pulses. An extrapolation of the results into the interstitial space where nerve cells are located at this stage does not allow assessment of whether a damage threshold may be reached.