Have you been injured in a car accident?  Quite often patients come to our clinic with a sore, stiff neck after being involved in a car accident.  We can help.  This blog will outline for you some of the more commonly asked questions by our patients about whiplash and whiplash treatment.



What is Whiplash?

Whiplash injury is a condition that involves damage to both the muscles and joints in the neck after it has been “whipped” backwards.  Most commonly associated with rear-end motor vehicle collisions, whiplash is a common yet sometimes complicated condition to resolve.  Due to this, a great deal of literature has been published on whiplash injury and different pieces of the puzzle are slowly being put together.

Whiplash – What is Injured?

One of the common areas of the neck injured in a motor vehicle accident is the cervical facet joint.  The cervical facet joint is located at the back of the neck.  It is compressed together when the head is extended (like the motion of looking up).  To challenge the right facet joints, we turn the head to the right and extend the neck backward.  Likewise, to challenge the left facet joints, we would turn the head to the left and extend the neck backward.  A recent study published in the journal Spine investigated the effect of having your head turned when rear-ended and whether or not that made injury to the facet joints (whiplash) worse.  Perhaps predictable, this study indeed found that a head-turned posture increases the facet joint injury associated with whiplash.  Unfortunately, it is common for drivers to turn their head to the right and look out the rear-view mirror a split second before an impending collision.  Of course, we hope that none of us are ever in this situation, but in the unfortunate event of a rear-end collision remember to keep your head straight!

What is WAD I, WAD II or WAD III?

Whiplash injury is now often referred to as Whiplash Associated Disorder, or “WAD”.  WAD injuries are graded between one and four. WAD I is a whiplash injury from a motor vehicle accident in which the patient has a sore neck.  WAD II is a whiplash injury from a car accident in which the patient has a sore neck and a decreased range of movement (stiff neck).

What if I have a “pinched nerve in neck”?

WAD III is more serious than WAD I or WAD II. WAD III is a whiplash injury that is characterized by a sore neck, a decreased range of movement (stiff neck) and numbness and tingling in the arms.  Often described as a pinched nerve in neck, the involvement of neurological structures makes this injury a little more severe and consequently, a little more difficult to resolve.  If you have been in an accident and are experiencing these symptoms (like a “pinched nerve in neck”) please contact our clinic or your medical doctor; x-rays are more than likely necessary.

Whiplash Treatment

Treatment for whiplash injury can vary, depending on the individual characteristics of each person’s condition.  In the past, treatment for whiplash included the use of a soft cervical neck collar.  Unfortunately, this seemed to prolong recovery.  We’ve now learned that early return to normal activity is helpful for recovery from Whiplash and whiplash associative disorder, depending on the case.  The first priority is to have your injury diagnosed by a qualified practitioner.  Our clinic has these practitioners.

Whiplash Diagnosis

It’s important that your neck injury is diagnosed properly before choosing a management strategy; there are some neck injuries that should not be moved.  Sometimes X-rays are required.  Once deemed safe and a diagnosis of WAD I or WAD 2 is made, it is usually recommended that the neck is moved within a relatively pain-free range of motion.  Again, diagnosis is paramount with WAD injury before any movement or treatment is attempted.  Our clinic often uses the expression “hurt vs. harm” for our whiplash patients.  This means that although it may be a little painful to move your neck, it likely won’t harm you.  Diagnosis for your injury and referral for appropriate x-rays can be performed by our Chiropractor.

Physiotherapy or Chiropractic for Whiplash?

Our Burlington Physiotherapy and Chiropractic Clinic sees many patients with whiplash injury.  We adapt the treatment toward the needs and comfort level of each patient; for some patients, active release technique and Graston are a great way to treat these injuries.  This is performed by our Chiropractor.  For others, laser therapy and exercise is the best starting point…this is performed by both our Chiropractors and our Physiotherapist.  Whatever the case, we offer our whiplash patients many treatment options depending on their specific needs.  If you’ve been in a car accident and need treatment for your injuries, please call our clinic today!  905.220.7858 info@burlingtonsportstherapy.com

Lord SM, Barnsley L, Wallis BJ et al. Chronic cervical zygapophysial joint pain after whiplash. A placebo controlled prevalence study. Spine 1996; 21: 1737-44.
Siegmund GP, Davis MB, Quinn KP et al. Head turned postures increase the risk of cervical facet capsule injury during whiplash. Spine 2008; 33(15): 1643-1649.
Sturzenegger M, Radanov BP, Distefano G. The effect of accident mechanisms and initial findings on the long term course of whiplash injury. Neurology. 1995; 242:443-9.

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