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Whiplash Associated Disorder & Motor Vehicle Accidents: What You Need To Know

By Tully Hogan-West
Physiotherapist at Life Ready Physio Midland

Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) is a commonly associated symptomatic response to motor vehicle accidents (MVAs).  The ‘whiplash’ mechanism occurs when the head is translated forward and backward in quick succession. Due to this movement, some of the small muscles and joints around the neck can become inflamed and may not work as well as they should.

Quite often after a car accident we are in shock and it can take a few hours or days for us to notice the pain or stiffness in our neck. This delayed onset can be normal and is our bodies’ protective mechanism to help settle any trauma that was sustained.

This stiffness however should start to settle within a week or so, but any prolonged pain should be reported to your GP or physiotherapist.

Common symptoms post-MVAs can include

  • Neck pain with movement
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Headaches

Things to watch out for

When seeking treatment for an MVA related injury through the Insurance Commission of WA (ICWA) you must first see your GP and start filling out the relevant paperwork. This usually requires some time on the Internet where you will need to report your incident through this website:, from which you will receive a reference number used to identify your case. If you are having difficulty with this step, then our friendly admin team can help point you in the right direction.

Once you have commenced treatment with your physiotherapist, we will help direct you to where you need to be. We can determine if you require x-rays, scans, a medical review or what management pathway will most help you get your neck moving again.


Assuming that x-rays are not required, the recommendations given by the Motor Accidents Authority (1) for acute WAD include; resuming normal activity when possible, range of movement activity and gentle strength and conditioning exercises prescribed for your specific symptoms.


  • Do keep active and perform your normal daily jobs as able
  • Do start performing some strengthening exercises as prescribed by one of our physiotherapists
  • Do move your neck and perform your exercises – little bits, often
  • Do keep positive about the outcomes, your neck can, and should get better


  • Don’t freeze up and get stiffer
  • Don’t worry too much about your neck, it is robust
  • Don’t avoid activity because you are worried it might hurt
  • Don’t ignore symptoms like fogginess, confusion, concussion or extreme headaches

The first three weeks post injury will help to inform the type of treatment and exercise that you will be undertaking for the following nine weeks or so. Gradual increases in exercise and activity and returning to normal duties will assist greatly with your recovery.

So, if you find yourself involved in an MVA give us a call and we will help you get back on track!


  1. Motor Accidents Authority: Guidelines for the Management of Acute Whiplash-Associated Disorders – for Health Professionals. Sydney: Third Edition, 2014.

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