Whiplash: Signs and Symptoms

Man with neck pain and potential whiplash after a car accident

Whiplash is commonly caused by motor-vehicle accidents or sporting crashes (snowboarding, skating, bike riding) and can be a literal pain in the neck. Whilst whiplash is descriptive of an acute injury there are also many associated implications that can result, known as whiplash associated disorders (WAD) including motor, sensory, neurological, and psychological impairments.

What Is ‘Whiplash’?

Whiplash is an acceleration-deceleration mechanism injury, causing a rapid forward/or backward movement and subsequent rebound of your head, neck and upper back. This impact may result in bony or soft-tissue injuries (whiplash injury) which in turn may lead to a variety of clinical conditions known collectively as whiplash associated disorder (WAD).

Signs and Symptoms:

A grading criterion was created to distinguish between a minor to severe whiplash injury depending on the severity of the WAD symptoms.

Most common symptoms of a whiplash injury are:

    • Neck pain
    • Stiffness, tenderness, and decreased range of motion.
    • Pain around the upper back and shoulders.
    • Headaches
    • Muscle/Soft tissue tightness

    Less commonly, you may see:

      • Tingling, numbness and/or weakness in the upper limbs
      • Vertigo

      The WAD Criteria follows:

        • 0 – No complaint of neck pain, and no physical signs/limitations.
        • 1 – Neck pain, stiffness, or tenderness only; no physical signs.
        • 2A – Neck pain, decreased range of motion, poor muscle activation, sensory impairment (abnormal/heightened localised cervical pain).
        • 2B – 2A plus psychological distress.
        • 2C – 2B plus global hypersensitivity and elevated acute post-traumatic stress.
        • 3 – 2C plus – Neurological impairment – muscle weakness, decreased/absent reflexes.
        • 4 – Fracture or dislocation. 

        Treatment and Recovery:

        Although recovery can be immediate, many patients suffer long lasting chronic complaints lasting months/years. This is mainly due to the subsequent WAD that can prolong healing and hence impair faster recoveries.

        Attending an osteopathic appointment here at East Gippsland Osteopathic Clinic after this type of injury allows you to get further assessment and diagnosis of your current complaint and a tailored treatment plan specific to your symptoms and history. Osteopaths can focus on relieving pain, reducing soft tissue tightness, improving range of motion and helping improve overall function of your head and neck allowing improved quality of life, and less likely to experience aggravation to the initial injury region.  

        Have you suffered from whiplash recently? Book an appointment at HealthLinks Gippsland and begin your recovery journey with us today.


        Sterling, M., & Kenardy, J. (2011). Whiplash: evidence base for clinical practice. Elsevier Australia.
        Yadla, S., Ratliff, J. K., & Harrop, J. S. (2008). Whiplash: diagnosis, treatment, and associated injuries. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med, 1(1), 65-68. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12178-007-9008-x

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