Motor Vehicle Injuries

Motor vehicle injuries are unfortunately a fact of life these days, and as more and more distractions become available to drivers, more accidents seem to occur. If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident it is not uncommon to suffer from injuries afterwards, most frequently to the neck and lower back.

Fortunately, many soft tissue injuries sustained in accidents are relatively low grade and settle quickly with time, rest and gentle exercise. For those that don't, we are here to help, and if the accident wasn't your fault, there is a good chance that you can have the costs of your treatment covered by the Insurance Commission of Western Australia (ICWA)*.

‘Whiplash’ is an injury to the soft tissues of the neck and upper back in which they are strained beyond their normal range of movement by a rapid backwards and forwards motion. A typical scenario is an impact from behind while stationary, perhaps while waiting to turn at a set of traffic lights. When travelling in a vehicle, our heads and bodies move relative to the vehicle. However, when that vehicle is struck, the head is thrown backwards and the torso rises up. A second movement is then one of a rapid forward head movement and the torso rebounds into flexion. The upper body and head therefore behave much like the coiling crack of a whip, so the term ‘whiplash’ originated from this.

Most of the pain from whiplash is felt around the neck, shoulders, and upper-mid thoracic region. At times the lower back may also be involved because of the potential for trunk movement to occur at the time of impact. In many collisions, a rotational force occurs, either in the collision itself, or via the position of the individual within the vehicle when struck. This may be one reason for symptoms being more noticeable on one side of the body than the other.

Common Symptoms of Whiplash

  • Pain can take many forms, and may be diffuse or more localised to a specific region of the body.
  • Variable pain at the actual time of impact. It is common that some symptoms are more noticeable 24-48 hours after the crash rather than at the time they occur.
  • Neck, shoulder and upper back pain that is often worse on one side, but may be on both sides. Restriction of neck movement is common.
  • Headaches, sometimes associated with feelings of nausea or dizziness.
  • Tingling and numbness in the arms or hands, particularly in the first few days following the crash are not uncommon. This may be due to an increase in muscular tension or nerve irritation.
  • Low back pain


  • Whiplash pain lasts for many years
  • Wearing a neck brace will help my whiplash pain
  • Not moving your neck will help it improve
  • There is no cure for whiplash


  • Whiplash is common following motor vehicle accidents but rarely leads to long term pain if managed effectively.
  • The pain of whiplash can be concerning and stressful and impact on many other facets of your life. However, remaining positive, maintaining movement, gentle exercise, relaxing and getting sufficient rest can all help you recover
  • Scans are usually only needed if you are not progressing with conservative treatment in an appropriate time frame.
  • Neck braces and soft collars are only ever used in more severe cases or if spinal damage is identified. In the vast majority of cases, using a collar may actually impair your recovery and is not recommended.

How does Physiotherapy help?

  • In the early days following your accident, treatment from a Physiotherapist can help settle your pain more quickly, alleviate muscle spasm, stimulate soft tissue healing and help restore your lost range of movement.
  • As your injury starts to settle, manual therapy helps to relieve the pain and stiffness caused by muscular and ligamentous strain. Physiotherapists will use a variety of different techniques, including stretching, joint mobilisation and soft-tissue treatments, modalities and dry needling to name just a few. Exercise and postural education will form a central part of your treatment.
  • Our Physiotherapists are highly trained health practitioners who understand the pathology of musculo-skeletal trauma. They assist with the specific diagnosis of problems, and apply the principles of evidence based treatment techniques in order to help you regain your normal function following an accident. We will liaise regularly with your GP or medical specialist to ensure you are receiving the treatment that is most appropriate to your condition.
  • Advice and education on posture, stretching, appropriate exercise programs and their intensity, as well as proactive guidelines to help you take control of your own recovery.

*Please note: for treatment expenses to be covered by ICWA, liability for your claim must be accepted by them, and you must provide us with a referral from your GP prior to commencing treatment. If you have any queries regarding this or the process of how to access treatment following a motor vehicle accident, please don't hesitate to call us at the clinic.