Whiplash: Do’s and Don’ts


Neck pain after a car accident? Here is what you need to know

Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD) are the result of sudden acceleration and deceleration forces applied to the neck. These most commonly occur during a road traffic accident (being hit from behind when stationary at the traffic lights for example), though they can also be as a result of a sports injury. The unsupported head is flicked in one direction and then the other, causing large amounts of strain and force on the cervical spine, often resulting in injury.

Injury severity is graded from zero to four on the Quebec scale, ranging from no physical signs or symptoms, all the way up to neck complaints in addition to presence of a fracture or dislocation.




Ok I’ve been injured, I should just stay in a collar and not move right?

Well actually no. Contrary to popular belief, and excluding the presence of a fracture or dislocation, avoiding normal day to day activities and immobilising yourself is one of the least beneficial things you can do. Pain and associated symptoms are the body’s normal reaction to being injured. Staying active and continuing as many activities as possible is a very important part of the recovery process.


But it hurts too much…I must have made it worse!

Another common belief that is not true.

If you find that certain activities aggravate your symptoms, the trick is to pace yourself. For example, following a road traffic accident you absolutely must get into work the next day to finish a report, yet 30 minutes into typing on the computer your symptoms are excruciating. The positive aspect of this pain is that you have found your limit. Pace yourself by initially taking a 2-3 minutes break every 10-15mins at the computer. This will prevent the symptoms increasing and still allows you to get the job done. Win Win.


My doctor referred me for physiotherapy…what should I expect?

Your physiotherapist will take a detailed history from you on both your present condition and on any previous incidences that may have occurred. They will then assess which movements are painful for you to perform and in what range. If you have any radiating pain down into the elbow or fingers this will be tested also.

Upon completion of the assessment, TOGETHER, you will devise a treatment plan that fits into your schedule and is tailored made FOR YOU, based on your activities of daily living. According to scientific evidence, or lack thereof, the number one treatment that should NOT be used is collar immobilisation and/or bed rest.


Scientific evidence shows us that ACTIVE EXERCISE, involving range of movement and mobilising exercises, and strengthening of the neck and scapular muscles, are the most effective way of curing the problem.

Other treatments that can be used IN ADDITION to active exercise include:

  1. Myofascial manipulation/Massage techniques (in conjunction with heat and/or ice)
  2. Electrotherapy modalities such as Tens, Ultrasound and Laser
  3. Manual therapy/Passive joint manipulations


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