Correct Position of Car Seat Head Rest

We spend a lot of time in cars.  But do you know how to correctly set the position of your headrest to minimise the chance of whiplash should you be unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident?  To find out more, Read on …

The job of your car seat and headrest is to “catch” you and your head in the case of an accident.  If it
isn’t correctly positioned it can be of no use, or even make matters worse.  Let’s start with the correct headrest position.

The idea position for your headrest is for the top of the headrest to above the level of the top of your head, and for the distance between the back of your head and the headrest being as small as possible.

Correct Position

During an accident, if your head is thrown backwards, the headrest will catch the head before it moves too far backwards (relative to your mid-back), preventing too much distortion in the lower neck (for this is where the tissues are mainly injured in the case of whiplash, despite you thinking it might be the upper neck).

If the headrest is too far back, the neck will bend backwards too far.

to far back

If the headrest is too low, as your head is being forced backwards, it will roll back over the top of the headrest, increasing the torsion and strain in the neck even further.


These days, modern car seats can have all sorts of additional protection built into them, such as active headrests that are pushed forwards in the event of an accident (either by a sprung-loaded mechanism or small explosive charges like the ones in an airbag).  Seat belts can have mechanisms the pull them very tight in an accident, and of course in the steering wheel and around the car there are airbags.  These tools are aimed at reducing the amount of movement your body makes during a crash, and this reduces the stress and strain on your tissues.  To finish with, here is a nice diagram showing the recommended distances from the back and top of your head.  Look how small the “good” area is compared to the “marginal / poor”


So, next time you get in your car, take a moment to check where your headrest is, as I’d say it is more than likely positioned in a marginal or poor position.   Any questions please do ask, otherwise best wishes….

Philip Waldman D.O. MSCCO. 

Registered Osteopath and Cranial Osteopath, and Director / co-founder of Chelsea Natural Health

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