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Cars with least painful head restraint?

I went to the Houston Auto show a few weeks ago because I need to buy a car, preferably a mid-size sedan. I already have mild but chronic neck pain, so i was most disappointed to learn what has already been mentioned here - head restraints are now designed to push your head much further forward than in the past. The straighter I keep my spine, the less pain; the more my head is shoved forward, the more pain. I have read all the suggestions about how to adapt (reverse the head restraint, angle seat further back, etc.), but I noticed at the car show there is variation among cars, and the lower end ones seem to push the head forward less than the nicer / larger sedans. 1) Does anyone have recommendations about which cars I should / should not look at, and 2) can anyone tell me which (governmental or insurance or rating?) organization may have info on all the models so I can start there when selecting my next car? Thanks!

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I do not know who’s in charge of mandating requirements for such.
But I’m with you…I wish they would.
At least mandate adjustability !

I’ve seen and heard far too many complaints for this to be considered correct. I don’t get why my head must be forced to stare at the instrument cluster and have to raise my eyes to see down the road ! I know they build to meet the ‘‘average’’ person…BUT…that would be ME !.. and I don’t like 50% of the restraints out there.

Hopefuly you’ll find adjustable models in your search…the wise manufacturers will.

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I think every manufacturer will be approaching it different so the best way will be going to the local auto show this winter to compare all of the models at one time. Its certainly one of the many alphabet soup agencies that must insure that all people will be safe no matter what. Same ones that now are bent on mandating that all cars will talk to each other to avoid accidents at a cost of ?. It might be that the time is coming that one will have a custom seat made that fits them and then simply install it from one vehicle to the next. Maybe there is a federal form to fill out to be granted permission to waive some of these requirements. So if you have the proper form and stamp you can get the alternate seat that won’t be a killer when driving.

Best place to start would be DOT, but I’m not hopeful. Having engineered in the auto industry, I can tell you that there are spec’s for EVERYTHING. But for a layman to get access to one individual specification is unlikely.
And I’ll tell you that in all the car buff books I read, I have never seen anyone rate headrest comfort. Consumer Reports rates their adjustability, but that is typically just height.
I do know that current thinking is to get them pushed further forward, so the head snaps back less in a rear-ender. This is probably why you are finding more uncomfortable cars. Your only solution may be to sit in a lot of them and see what works for you. Or you could buy the car you like and pay an upholstery shop to remake the head restraint to your liking.

In which model year did the new head restraint regs take effect? While I would prefer to buy a new car, I may just buy a car made before these regs, in the hopes better solutions are developed in the next few years since so many people are complaining.

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I keep hearing people complain about the head restraints hurting their necks but it hurts my neck if I actually try to put my head back far enough to maintain contact with the restraint in my cars including a newer 2012 Odyssey. Perhaps that bad posture my mom always complained about has finally yielded some benefits? :wink:

Can you tilt the seating cushion back so the restraint is angled away from the back of your head? Wondering if some combination of seat positions will eliminate the head contact…

It’s been my understanding that one’s head shouldn’t touch the head rest/restraint while driving

Head restraints don’t normally cause problems. Adjustable ones for and aft would be a good solution as tilting the seat back could cause other problems. My heart goes out to you. Fitting a car to your individual needs does take priority over everything else. The suggestion I would add is that you sit in any car you think might work…for a very long time to be sure. Maybe you have already taken the route, but an evaluation by a physical therapist could really help too. Special core strengthening exercise through your entire body help this matter.

Let me add that in at least one of my cars, the head restraint is set back quite far back from the head. In a collision, it supposedly moves forward automatically to cradle the neck. I assume many others are like that.

The back of your head doesn’t need to be touching the head rest but it should be no more than 2-3 inches from it. So that your head contacts the head rest and not your neck. Googling revealed this from a site called

New Car Headrests (Head Restraints) Designed Too Far Forward:
Hidden Costs are Neck/Back Pain and Distracted Driving

A car headrest is not designed to rest your head against and relax while driving. It is actually a head restraint, designed to prevent a whiplash injury in a rear-end collision.

Federal Safety Regulations now require the head restraint to be a distance of 2.2 inches or less from the back of the driver’s head. Compliance by car manufacturers began September 1, 2009, under a phase-in schedule that required all new vehicles to meet the new head restraint regulation by September 2010.1 Unfortunately, the head restraints of these newer vehicles are positioned too far forward for many drivers - actually pushing the driver’s head forward, resulting in neck/back pain, headaches, and driver distraction.

In general, the drivers most affected by the new forward head restraint design are:

Drivers preferring the healthiest and most alert driving posture - driving with just a slight recline to the trunk, no greater than approximately 5° to 10°.
Thinner drivers with less depth to the trunk. These individuals will be closer to the head restraint than heavier individuals with greater depth to the trunk.

The forward head restraint design will also be more of a problem in car seats where the backrest has excessive concavity and/or softness in the mid-back region. As the driver’s thoracic spine and rib cage sink into these backrests, the relative head restraint position will be moved further forward.

A lack of knowledge regarding healthy and safe driving posture resulted in a major error in the positioning of these new head restraints. This is reflected in the measurement methods of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for determining the horizontal distance between the head restraint and the back of the head. For this measurement, the test dummy (called the H-point machine) is positioned on the car seat at a trunk recline of 25° from vertical. 2 The IIHS considers this trunk recline of 25° “a typical seatback angle” when driving.3

However, when driving with a trunk recline of 25° from vertical, the head and neck are brought forward from the reclined trunk to achieve proper visibility out the windshield. This postural distortion is reflected in the IIHS testing, with a 25° trunk recline, but a vertical position of the head/neck segment of the test dummy. As a result of this postural distortion with a 25° trunk recline, the head restraint needs to be positioned a significant horizontal distance forward from the backrest, in order to be close to the back of the driver’s head.

Besides distorting one’s driving posture, a 25° trunk recline relaxes the trunk musculature, resembling the trunk instability of an unconscious person. The increased reaction times at the foot pedals with a relaxed core can have serious implications when trying to avoid an accident.

As mentioned earlier, the healthiest and most alert driving posture is with a slight trunk recline of 5° to 10°. Without the forward postural distortion of the head and neck characteristic of a 25° trunk recline, a slight trunk recline of 5° to 10° will require a head restraint positioned less further forward from the backrest. With a slight trunk recline, drivers with a thinner torso have the greatest risk of the head being pushed forward by an extreme forward head restraint designed for a 25° trunk recline. The healthiest solution for correcting an extreme forward head restraint is adapting the backrest to provide lower thoracic support, thereby elevating the rib cage, elongating the thoracic spine, and moving the upper trunk slightly forward. With the proper thickness of the lower thoracic support, the head and neck are positioned in a stress-free upright posture, with very slight clearance of the back of the head from the excessively forward head restraint.

The addition of lower thoracic support also requires the addition of sacral support to properly stabilize the pelvis with movement of the vehicle.4, 5 The resulting active-alert driving posture with lower thoracic support, sacral support, and a slight trunk recline (5° to 10°), called The YogaBack Posture, optimizes trunk stabilization and diaphragmatic breathing, with faster reaction times at the foot pedals.6

The addition of lower thoracic support and sacral support is the most effective way to prevent a slumped driving posture. This has important implications for a whiplash injury, as backward bending of the head is almost impossible when slumping. This severely restricted backward head movement with a slumped driving posture may explain why a whiplash injury can result from a slight rear-end impact! 7, 8

For future head restraint design, besides height (vertical) adjustability, depth (horizontal) adjustability is just as critical.9, 10 With proper depth adjustability to the head restraint, many drivers will no longer be forced to distort their posture and compromise their safety, in order to conform to the auto industry’s erroneous concept of healthy and safe driving posture.

Finally. So are you saying these are being redesigned a little then?

The IIHS tends to study how cars actually are used, not how they should be. I’m sure they have figures showing what seatback angle people drive at, and it is a lot more than the ‘optimal’ ten degrees. I’d be in awful pain if I were sitting that upright. I’m sure that tendency of people to drive reclined more than expected is what drove the design change. With people reclined the head restraints weren’t being very effective, so they had them moved forward

The OP might look for one of the very few models with active head restraints. These move the restraint forward in a collision. I suspect the restraints may be positioned a little further from the head if it will move up into the proper position. Various makes (mostly higher priced ones) have added this feature. I have neck problems, too, but tend to lean my seat back so don’t hit the restraints.