How Physiotherapy can help Whiplash Associated Disorder

21 Oct, 2019

Whiplash associated disorder is a costly and debilitating condition that can occur to anyone regardless of age and if left untreated it can cause chronic pain later down the track. In this post whiplash associated disorders will be explained and will describe how physiotherapy can help improve health and wellbeing after a whiplash incident.

What Are Whiplash Associated Disorders?

Whiplash occurs when the neck suddenly moves backwards and forwards beyond its normal range of movement damaging the neck muscles, tendons and ligaments. This injury is most commonly caused by forceful impact of a motor vehicle accident (MVA) but can also be caused by sporting accidents and falls.

Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) is the term used to describe the clinical presentation and resulting disability.

The most common symptoms of WAD are constant neck pain or pain with neck movement with or without headaches. These symptoms can occur up to 48hrs post incident. Other symptoms include loss of neck movement, altered muscular patterns, cervical spine instability, loss of balance, dizziness and memory problems. Symptoms are graded on the Quebec Task Force Classification from Grade 1: no neck complaint to Grade 4: neck complaint and fracture or dislocation.

Physiotherapists perform a thorough examination including; taking history of prior neck pain and the associated symptoms, observing and palpating the neck and body posture, looking at any stiffness present in the joints and testing the muscles and nerves in the neck and shoulders. They will then implement a tailored treatment plan to assist you in achieving the best outcomes.

Why are Whiplash Associated Disorders important?

Whiplash associated disorder is an incapacitating and expensive condition with studies showing that ½ of people who experience whiplash injuries will still be affected by chronic neck pain and disability at least 6 months after initial injury.

This is why it is crucial to commence active physical therapy as soon as possible to achieve the best outcomes, reduce potential chronic pain and maintain personal wellbeing and happiness.

Whiplash Associated Disorder

What you need to remember about Whiplash Associated Disorders:

  • The earlier commencement of physiotherapy, the better outcomes at 6 weeks and 6 months post injury in reducing pain and returning quality of life.
  • Surgery is not usually needed in lower grades of WAD and can be managed through education, postural advice, muscle retraining and pain management given by a physiotherapist.
  • Every case of WAD is different and there could be multiple structures that may have been impacted by the incident. Talk to your GP and physiotherapist about best practice management and whether the assistance of any other health practitioner is needed.

What to do now?

If you, friend or family member is suffering from Whiplash associated disorder give us a call at Gen Physio, we have a friendly team of professionals that are dedicated to changing the lives of our clients. All of our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an examination. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book a consultation today.


Lamb SE. Et al. MINT Study Team. Managing Injuries of the Neck Trial (MINT): design of a randomised controlled trial of treatments for whiplash associated disorders. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2007 Jan 26;8:7

Schnabel M, Ferrari R, Vassiliou T, Kaluza G. Randomised, controlled outcome study of active mobilisation compared with collar therapy for whiplash injury. Emerg Med J. 2004 May;21(3):306-10. LEVEL 2B

Van Goethem J. et al. Spinal Imaging: Diagnostic Imaging of the Spine and Spinal Cord. p 258

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