The Role of Physiotherapy in the Treatment of Whiplash Injuries

The most common type of injuries we see after a motor vehicle accident are soft tissue injuries, commonly known as “whiplash” injuries. This term simply describes the mechanism of the typical car crash injury, namely a sudden forwards and backwards jerking of the neck, back and shoulders (flexion and extension) caused by the sudden impact of a collision. It may be a forwards and backwards motion, or sideways, depending upon the angle and force of the impact. The effect of these forces on the body is to stretch the muscle fibres and tendons beyond their normal capacity, leading to tissue damage.

Most people will experience the effects of a whiplash injury as pain, stiffness and restriction of movement. These symptoms can last from a few days many months and in extreme cases may lead to permanent symptoms.

For this reason, it is important to seek treatment for such injuries at the earliest opportunity. In the case of a “no fault” accident, the Insurance Commission of Western Australia will cover the reasonable cost of the treatment, provided it is supported by a referral letter from your GP.

Most GPs recognise the need for prompt intervention and will refer the patient either to a physiotherapist or chiropractor, depending upon the specific nature of the injury and the GP’s own preference. This will often follow on from x-rays, to make sure that there is no underlying bony damage.

Physiotherapy treatment usually follows a pattern as follows:

  • an initial assessment to establish the nature and extent of the injuries
  • manual (passive) therapy, involving massage of the affected areas, sometimes also involving dry-needling
  • a progression towards a gym-based, supervised exercise program (under the control of the treating specialist)
  • possibly an introduction to hydrotherapy (pool-based exercises)
  • eventually self-managed exercises carried out by the patient at the direction of the treating specialist

At the endpoint of the treatment, the goal is to return the patient to their pre-accident condition, but this is not always possible. However, as long as the patient’s condition has stabilised (i.e. is unlikely to get any better or worse) the claim can usually be settled at that point. If further treatment is likely to be needed in future, the Insurance Commission will usually make an allowance for that in the settlement.

In cases where the injury is deemed to be more than minor, compensation may be payable for “pain and suffering and loss of amenity”. The precise amount of compensation is governed by a statutory scale which is subject to a qualifying threshold.

Of course, more serious injuries will require a different approach, which we will discuss in a separate article.

Lastly, if you have been in an accident you may be able to make a claim to assist with your recovery.

With years of experience helping people in Perth and greater Western Australia make successful Personal Injury claims we are here and ready to help you. Simply call direct on 1300 855 121 to talk with one of our team or head to and request a free consultation.

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