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  • Writer's picturePursuit of Motion

Motor Vehicle Accidents: Whiplash Associated Disorders



Motor Vehicle Accidents & Treatment Models

Motor Vehicle Accidents involve any collision between a vehicle and a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, pedestrian, or bicyclist. Rear-end collisions occur most commonly, followed by side collisions, and lastly head-on collisions.

In Canada, it is estimated that the cost of road traffic collisions is $25 billion per year, including structural damages and healthcare costs.



A biopsychosocial model should be used when treating MVA injuries. This allows us to consider the biological, psychological, and social factors that impact patients following complex injuries.


Healthcare providers, including physiotherapists, utilize this model to treat chronic pain as it helps address social and psychological factors that may negatively impact a patient's well-being following physical injury.



Whiplash & Common Injuries

Neck pain and headaches are the most commonly reported injuries following a MVA. 62% of vehicle occupants post-MVA develop neck pain, often classified as Whiplash.


Whiplash can be defined as injury following sudden acceleration or deceleration of the neck. The initial impact of a MVA can result in bony / soft-tissue injuries, which, in turn, may lead to a variety of clinical manifestations called ‘Whiplash Associated Disorders’ (WAD).


Common symptoms of an acute whiplash injury include: 

  • Neck Pain/Stiffness

  • Headaches

  • Shoulder/Arm Pain 

  • Blurred Vision

  • Loss of Balance or Concentration

  • Sleeplessness - leading to fatigue



The WAD System

When clients seek physiotherapy treatment following a MVA, their injury is classified according to the WAD system. WAD classifications in Alberta range from Grade I to Grade IV, increasing in severity and associated signs and symptoms.


This system incorporates the biopsychosocial model as it considers individual biological, psychological, and social factors, including coping mechanisms and access to support.


  • WAD I: includes neck symptoms with no physical signs of injury.

  • WAD II: includes neck symptoms and musculoskeletal signs. 

  • WAD III: includes neck symptoms and neurological signs. 

  • WAD IV: includes fractures or dislocation.


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