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Seat-Belts and Shoulder Pain

Seat belts are now comulsory in most contries and do save lives.

There are numerous studies proving the role of seat-belts in saving lives during a crash.

To be effective, they must be worn and they must be worn correctly.

However seat-belts can cause problems in the neck and shoulders outside of accidents.

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Seat-belts are designed to exert pressure if the belt is pulled quickly.

This can happen not only during a crash but also if you attempt to shift your body position without first slowly expanding the belt.

This pressure can cause soft tissue tension in the shoulder and neck.

When driving, many people have a tendency to put one hand on the wheel, usually the hand on the same side as the seat belt.

Without equal distribution of your weight, the belt can tighten-and pull against the shoulder of the arm holding the steering wheel.

Muscle spasms can result from prolonged application of this pressure.

When the discomfort becomes noticeable, we have a tendency to reposition the belt up or down on the shoulder/neck.

This cycle is repeated if we are driving for an extended period of time.

The term "Whiplash" is usually associated with a forceful flexion-extension movement of the neck which causes injury to the soft tissues surrounding the neck.

Whiplash is fairly common in a road traffic accident.

Whiplash can cause mild to severe pain in the shoulders since the muscles in the neck are also connected to the shoulder.

It is also a major cause of shoulder impingement syndrome and every year I send around 3-5 patients per year to the shoulder surgeon due to severe damage to the rotator cuff.

Make your seat-belt more comfortable

There are some people for whom the standard seat-belt is not a good fit. 

Regulations in the United States when this article was written state that “seat-belt assembly shall be capable of adjustment to fit occupants whose dimensions and weight range from those of a 5th-percentile adult female to those of a 95th-percentile adult male.

With these dimensions the weight ranges from 43.6 kg (102 pounds) to 97.5 kg (215 pounds) and the sitting height ranges from 785 mm (30.9 in) to 965 mm (38 in). 

Whether you fall within these guidelines for proper seat-belt fit or not, there are some things you can do to make your seat-belt more comfortable. And also decrease the risk of shoulder or neck pain related to seat-belt use without decreasing the effectiveness of the seat-belt’s intended use.

Seat belt extender and strap pads

Seat-belt extenders are available for purchase for most vehicles.

These extenders increase the length of the belt for those whose size warrants a longer belt.

Seat belt strap adjusters help to position the shoulder harness away from your neck and shoulder.

Most new vehicles have built in strap adjusters but you can purchase after market adjusters as well.

Another great way to decrease the discomfort of the shoulder harness is a strap pad.

These fit around the belt in the shoulder area to prevent rubbing of the belt against your skin and they provide a cushion from the pressure of the belt.

They are available in a variety of materials. Look for one that will provide you with the best cushioning.

Seat belts are a necessary safety apparatus but you needn’t suffer from their daily, routine use.

Following the guidelines listed above will help to decrease your chances of incurring a shoulder injury from wearing a seat-belt.

Just one more thing, always wear a seatbelt and make sure your passengers do to.

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