Temporomandibular Joint Injury Potential Imposed by the Low Velocity Extension-Flexion Maneuver


Dr. Richard P. Howard, Dr. Charles P. Hatsell, Mr. Herb M. Guzman


Journal of Oral Maxillofacial Surgery. 1995 March; 53(3):256-262.


PURPOSE: It has been proposed that significant temporomandibular joint injury can occur as a result of rapid extension-flexion motion of the neck (whip-lash). This motion, which is experienced by passengers in vehicles that undergo rear-end collisions, has been described as causing rapid protrusion and opening of the mandible. It has been speculated that this relative motion between the mandible and the cranium produces forces at the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that injure the articular elements. The objective of this study was to measure these forces by an experimental method. 

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Accelerometer sensor and high-speed cinematographic data were obtained from the kinematic responses of live human test subjects positioned as occupants in motor vehicles that underwent staged low-velocity rear-end collisions. Linear and moment forces generated at the TMJs were obtained from the resultant acceleration pulse at the craniomandibular complex, estimation of the mass properties of the mandible and its appended soft tissues, and the application of Newton’s Second Law of motion. 

RESULTS: The maximum linear forces generated at the TMJ in a rear-end collision resulting in a velocity change of the test subject of 8 km/h (5 mph) were in the 7 to 10 N (1.6 to 2.2 lb) range. Moment forces at the joint peaked briefly at 0.55 N.m (4.81 lb-in). CONCLUSIONS: These force magnitudes generated at the TMJ constitute a minor fraction of the forces experienced at the joint during normal physiologic function. It is a conclusion of this study that injuries to the TMJ attributed to low-velocity “whiplash” cannot be accounted for by the joint forces produced by this maneuver.