Kids help Kettering measure up

May 6, 2005

Kettering researchers are going where no one has gone before in the realm of crash test safety, by measuring the range of motion in children's necks.

Third and fourth graders at Hill Elementary School in Davison became the first test subjects under the age of 18 to be used in the measurement of the Range of Motion (ROM) of the human head in flexion, extension, lateral bending (side to side) and axial rotation (turning right and left).

The "Range-of-Motion of the Cervical Spine of Children" study is the first research effort to quantify and establish benchmarks of "normal" ROM in children. The study is a collaboration between Kettering University Mechanical and Industrial Engineering departments and McLaren Regional Medical Center in Flint.

Results will be analyzed to determine average range of motion, overall range, and standard deviation in the degrees of rotation in children's necks and be used to improve occupant protection in motor vehicles, improve safety of sports equipment and the benefits of physical therapy for children.

"While many studies have been done on adult subjects, no complete study has been performed in a pediatric setting," said Dr. Terri Lynch-Caris, assistant professor of Industrial Engineering. "By measuring the ROM of children under the age of 18, it will be possible to develop safer infant/toddler car seats, sports helmets and more life-like crash test dummies, as well as to expand the database of current ROM data," she said.

The ROM of the human head and neck is measured and applied to many research areas including chronic neck pain, spinal injuries, sports helmet design, physical therapy studies and computer modeling. Prior to 2003, numerous studies had been performed to measure ROM for adults, but no complete studies have been performed for young children. The participation of Hill 3rd and 4th graders in the study was made possible by Susan Smith, of Davison and Lance Harper, principal of Hill Elementary.

The Kettering/McLaren study is the first of its kind. The measurements collected will be compared with published adult data. It is believed that children have a higher degree of normal range of motion than adults and the elderly. The project was initiated by Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, and graduate students Yong Teng and Kari Zebracki.

"Results of this project may be immediately applied in the Kettering crash lab research," Lynch-Caris said. "Although significant progress has been made to improve protection for children in motor vehicles, the fatality rate still remains high. The data on the ROM of the cervical spine for children will be helpful in computational modeling and other applications outside of the crash lab as well," she said.

The goal of the Kettering/McLaren study is 200 subjects between the ages of 7 and 11 (80 subjects of each age). There were approximately 76 volunteer test subjects at Hill Elementary.

Testing consisted of several non-invasive measurements using a Cervical Range of Motion (CROM) device to evaluate the flexion, extension, lateral extension, and rotation of the cervical spine of each subject. Subjects were also measured for standing height, seated height, shoulder height, head and neck circumference, and weight.


The CROM device is a goniometric device (to measure angles) using fluid-damped inclinometers (to show relationship to the horizontal plane) and magnets for fast, accurate readings without much oscillation. Made of a lightweight frame, it attaches to a subject's head with Velcro straps. Three inclinometers measure rotation about the different planes of cervical motion and data is recorded by investigators.

In addition to beingmeasured by Lynch-Caris' IME454 Industrial Engineering Senior Design Project students under the supervision of Dr. Christopher Van Pelt, Orthopaedic Surgery chief resident at McLaren, participating 3rd and 4th grade students also had a chance to learn more about crash test safety and the field of Mechanical Engineering from Brelin-Fornari. She explained to each group the engineering behind vehicle safety and how new technologies are developed using data from research projects like the one they participated in.

The students ended their school day with a better understanding of how important it is to use their seatbelt, even if they don't quite understand the importance the flexion of their necks will play in future crash test safety research.

Written by Dawn Hibbard