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Physical Therapy Treatment for Whiplash

The term whiplash associated disorders (WAD) describes injuries that occur as a result of a rapid acceleration-deceleration movement. Whiplash is the most common injury occurring after car accidents. It can also occur as a result of sporting injuries and falls. Most people that experience whiplash will recover naturally within a few weeks, however approximately 42% continue to have symptoms. 

Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • Neck pain and headaches
  • Decreased neck movement
  • Dizziness
  • Disturbances in vision and hearing 
  • Jaw pain (temporomandibular joint disfunction)
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Trouble speaking or swallowing
  • Difficulties with concentration 
  • Memory loss
  • Psychological distress including anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia 
  • Fatigue 

Whiplash can result in injury to joints, ligaments, muscles and nerves. Research has shown that regardless of specific tissue structures involved, individuals with WAD can experience a variety of changes in their sensation, movement, pain experience and psychological functioning.  

For individuals with milder WAD symptoms, research indicates that a multi-modal physical therapy program that addresses specific individual impairments can lead to a reduction in pain and disability, especially if initiated early on after the onset of symptoms.  

Physical therapy treatments may include: 

  • Manual therapy to decrease pain and improve joint movement
  • Dry needling to reduce muscular tension and pain 
  • Targeted exercises to improve strength and coordination of important neck muscles 

Individuals experiencing more moderate-to-severe symptoms may benefit from a multidisciplinary approaching including physical therapy, psychological support and pharmaceutical pain management. 

Symptoms of WAD are unique to each individual person. A physical therapist can perform a thorough assessment to determine which factors are contributing to your symptoms, and determine which treatments are most appropriate. 


  • Elliott, J. M., Noteboom, J. T., Flynn, T. W., & Sterling, M. (2009). Characterization of acute and chronic whiplash-associated disorders. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 39(5), 312–323. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2009.2826

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