How Long Does Whiplash Last | My Health Team

How Long Does Whiplash Last

What is Whiplash Associated Disorder?

Whiplash is the term used to describe neck injury following rear-end collision in a motor vehicle accident. Whiplash associated disorder encompasses the vast array of ongoing symptoms and features following whiplash.

How is whiplash caused?

A rear-end collision causes the neck to be bent backwards (extended) and then forwards (flexed) very quickly resulting in unusual and significant forces on the bones, muscles, nerves and ligaments in the neck, shoulders and arms. This may result in damage to any of these structures.




  • Headache
  • Decreased movement in neck, with pain
  • Shoulder and lower back pain
  • Hypersensitivity to touch and temperature both at the area of injury and distant to, due to nerve damage (Scott et al, 2005 and Sterling et al, 2002)
  • Dizziness/Vertigo in 20-60% of people (Hain, 2012)
  • Hearing changes – usually due to damage to artery or nerve to inner ear (Hain, 2012)
  • Pain/numbness/pins and needles in arm or hand



These symptoms will be different in individual cases and will affect every day function to varying degrees. You may have difficulty with every day activities such as house work, carrying shopping and sitting for long periods. It can also be difficult to find a comfortable position in bed. At My Health Team we can help with all of these things!

How long does it last?

Symptoms of whiplash can last anywhere between a few hours to months to years. There are many factors which determine the length and severity of pain.

Risk factors for longstanding neck pain and headaches (as determined by Atherton et al, 2006):

  • Widespread body pain prior to motor vehicle accident
  • Medium/High severity of collision
  • High level of psychological distress after motor vehicle accident (greatest risk factor)
  • Being in a vehicle other than a car

Factors that did not show strong correlation with increased risk of longstanding neck pain and headaches (as determined by Atherton et al, 2006):

  • Prior neck pain
  • Poor general health prior to collision
  • Speed
  • Direction of impact
  • Anticipation of impact
  • Position in vehicle
  • Work related stressors

Obelieniene et al, 1999, studied the length of ongoing pain in patients in Lithuania, where there was no pre-conceived anxiety regarding whiplash injury. In this study, the average duration of pain was 17 days, further confirming the concept that psychological factors play a huge part in whiplash associated disorder.

Why is it important to seek treatment straight away?

It is very important to seek medical treatment straight away even if you don’t feel like you have a significant injury. Professional assessment will help determine the severity of injury as well as identify any psychological factors that may contribute to ongoing pain and dysfunction.

Initial pain and stiffness can progress to degenerative changes, especially if left untreated. According to an article by Hain, 2012, degenerative changes are seen in 40% of people after moderate to severe whiplash.

What can you expect from physiotherapy?

  • Discussion about Motor Vehicle Accident, current symptoms and goals
  • Physical assessment to determine severity of injury and causes of symptoms
  • Hands on treatment to decrease pain and improve movement
  • Exercises aimed at improving function, strength, movement and decreasing pain

What steps need to be taken to be covered by CTP for rehab?

All vehicles registered within Australia are required to be covered by Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance. It provides the driver of the vehicle with legal cover for liability following any motor vehicle accident for which they are at fault.

If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident you can make a claim to the CTP insurer of the at fault driver. The Motor Accident Insurance Commission of Queensland has outlined the following steps to making a claim:

  1. Report the crash to Police
  2. Obtain the registration number of the vehicle of the at fault driver
  3. Complete ‘Notice of Accident Claim Form’ or ‘Fatal Injury Claim Form’
  4. Lodge form: send to CTP insurer of at fault driver

The claim must be lodged within the following timeframes:

  • 3 months if the motor vehicle cannot be identified (claim is given to the Nominal Defendant)
  • OR whichever of the following dates earlier
    • Within 9 months of crash
    • At first instance of symptoms arising (if they are not present initially following collision)
    • Within 1 month of consultation with solicitor

The insurer will then determine if liability for your claim is accepted. Provided your claim is accepted the insurer will take steps to ensure reasonable rehabilitation is provided for.

For further information please consult the Motor Accident Insurance Commission website.


Atherton et al, 2006. ‘Predictors of persistence neck pain after whiplash injury’, Emerg Med J, 2006, Mar 23(3), pp 195-201

Hain, T., 2012. ‘Vertigo and Hearing symptoms after whiplash’, Available online: [accessed 19/09/16]

Sterling et al, 2002. ‘Pressure Pain Thresholds in Chronic Whiplash Associated Disorder: Further Evidence of Altered Central Pain Processing’, Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain, 2002, 10(3)pp 69-81

Scott et al, 2005. ‘Widespread Sensory Hypersensitivity Is a Feature of Chronic Whiplash-Associated Disorder but not Chronic Idiopathic Neck Pain’, Clinical Journal of Pain, 2005, 21(2), pp 175-181

Motor Accident Insurance Commission, 2016. ‘Overview of the Queensland CTP Claims Process’, [online] Available: (accessed 22/09/16)



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