Whiplash Overview

Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) or Whiplash refers to the mechanism of injury rather than the presence of symptoms in the absence of a lesion or structural pathology. 

Whiplash occurs when there is sudden acceleration-deceleration(speed up and slow down) movements such as those associated with motor vehicle accidents (Physio-Pedia). It is considered the most common injury after “noncatastrophic” motor vehicle accidents, other events such as sporting activities and accidental falls can also result in a whiplash injury.  It can result in the spraining of your neck’s soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, muscles, discs, and small joints).

numbness in your leg, and an unpleasant tingling pins-and-needles sensation in your leg, foot and toes.

Causes of Whiplash

Whiplash is caused by a sudden violent jerking of the neck. Experts agree that whiplash causes injury to the muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs, and small joints of the spine. Fortunately, most whiplash injuries aren’t serious and often recover in a few weeks. A small percentage of people can have persisting symptoms that last several months but more serious injuries (e.g., fractures, nerve injuries) are not common.


Symptoms can include:

  • Neck Pain
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Headaches
  • Radiating pain to the shoulder blade and arm can sometimes occur
  • The amount of pain and stiffness varies between people and the type of injury. 
  • Turning your head or looking up (e.g., driving, working at a computer) can all be painful and restricted

The prognosis of WAD is unknown and unpredictable, some cases remain acute with a full recovery while some progress to choric with long-term pain and disability. Early intervention recommendations are key to a successful recovery.

Cervical/Thoracic Spine Assessment

How do physiotherapists help… We are part of the early intervention process! 

Physiotherapists are highly skilled at examining and treating whiplash. Research shows that getting your neck moving soon after the injury speeds up recovery. Rest can cause more stiffness, increased muscle weakness and delayed recovery. Your physiotherapist will help you improve your neck’s strength and movement. 

Treatment may include:

  • Education in posture and positioning to manage pain
  • Specific exercises to reduce pain, restore mobility and strength
  • Manual therapy treatments to reduce pain, restore mobility
  • Modalities (e.g., acupuncture, heat, cold) for temporary pain relief
  • Rehabilitation program to safely prepare you for return to normal activity, sport or work

Your physiotherapist will:

  • Ask questions and observe your neck posture, how your neck moves and where it hurts 
  • Screen out more serious injuries that require medical follow-up
  • Examine the area, test range of motion, muscle strength, and perform special tests assess nerve function
  • Develop a treatment plan tailored to you, depending on the situation and time since the accident

By: Preya Ramdass. PT. B.M.R.(PT), DIP. MANIP. (PT), FCAMPT. CIDN

Registered Physiotherapist. Acupuncture & Dry Needling Provider. Clinical Pilates Instructor & Clinic Owner.



Excerpt From: Harsha Shanthanna. “Whiplash Injury and Chronic Pain:.” Harsha Shanthanna, 2019. Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/ca/book/whiplash-injury-and-chronic-pain/id1473971217


Orthopaedic Theory  Manual Canadian Physiotherapy Association.

Integrative Physiotherapy is a Barrie-based clinic that believes in a one-on-one patient-centred, manual therapy (hands-on) approach to physiotherapy. We aim to empower our patients by providing quality care that is personalized to each patient in an interactive and friendly manner. Through the use of the best available treatment techniques, we aim to provide exceptional care so that each patient feels engaged and motivated.

Our therapists are continually upgrading their skills and taking time to provide comprehensive assessment and treatment techniques that are always one on one without the use of assistants or double booking patients to make sure that you achieve your functional and sports goals as soon as possible.  

Our therapists would be happy to help you to achieve your goals, get in touch to schedule your appointment.  Don’t let pain ruin your day!

Integrative Physiotherapy, Empowering Patients with Personalized Care.