Neck Pain


Avoiding work-related pains in the neck


If you know someone who has had a car accident, or you’ve had one yourself, it would be a good idea to ask a physio to check for signs of whiplash – particularly if it was a rear-end crash.

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is defined as neck pain, usually as the result of a car accident, although it is possible for some sporting injuries to result in whiplash. Whiplash is quite common, even in people wearing seatbelts, and very difficult to diagnose and treat. In whiplash the damage occurs to the soft tissues, such as discs, muscles, and ligaments, and any or all of these structures may be involved

Is it real?

For many years ‘whiplash’ was a dirty word. People who complained of neck pain after a motor vehicle accident were thought to be making it up to build a case for compensation because the damage rarely shows up on X-rays. However, physiotherapy research in the 1980s used other ways to show clearly that damage to the neck does occur and whiplash is real. Some statistics estimate that around a third of road accidents result in a whiplash injury; tens of thousands of Australians experience it each year at great personal cost, and cost to the community.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms are stiffness or soreness in the upper back, headache, and pain in the neck. These symptoms may not appear until several days after the accident, but the good news is that for most people they clear in a few days or weeks.

Can it be treated?

It was once the case that most people who had suffered whiplash were advised to rest and wear a soft collar to support and protect the neck and keep it immobile. These days the thinking is that recovery will occur earlier and more completely if people keep moving and continue to exercise sensibly. As with many conditions, early mobilisation is the key.

For some people (and their health professionals) whiplash can be a real problem. It seems that about one-third of people involved in a car accident will feel no symptoms, one-third will develop some symptoms that clear up in a few weeks, and one-third will develop quite severe symptoms which may linger as chronic pain for years.

There is no single treatment for whiplash, because there is no single injury. Depending on the circumstances heat, ice, massage, exercises, traction, or ultrasound may be helpful. Physiotherapists can offer some treatments that will assist recovery, but it is not always clear which structures have been damaged.

Can I help myself?

A team of Queensland physiotherapists have done extensive research into whiplash for a number of years, and have produced a self-help booklet that explains whiplash and provides an exercise program that has been proven to assist in reducing neck pain. Their advice is that people can help their own recovery, but they should consult their health care provider before starting the exercise program. The Whiplash Injury Recovery - a Self-Management Guide booklet is available for free download from the Queensland Government Motor Accident Insurance Commission website.

Your physio will help you decide which exercises are right for you and give you some tips about how to recover safely from whiplash. So, if you are unfortunate and have an accident that results in whiplash, you will be in safe hands when you consult your physiotherapist.


Avoiding work-related pains in the neck

We live in a switched on world, but as well as making our life easier and more interesting new technology has some hidden dangers. There are a multitude of potential traps for users.

Whether using the internet, a laptop, the mobile phone, or just playing electronic games, we need to take care not to overdo it and make sure that we are not putting our bodies at risk.


The internet opens up the world, but it is easy to lose track of time and find that we have been staring at the screen for hours as we surf the net. This means that neck, shoulder, and back pain may be lurking. Holding the body in a rigid position produces aches and pains that can lead to long term problems if habits are not changed. It is also important to make sure that posture is preserved with the height of the chair, desk, and computer screen matched to the user. For home use it may be a good idea to make sure that, as well as having an adjustable chair, there is a footstool for younger and smaller users so that their feet are not dangling and their circulation is not affected.


Laptops are not meant to sit on our laps! Hunched over using a laptop on the lap or twisted into an awkward position using it on an unsuitable surface produces neck and back strain after a very short time. And even when the laptop sits on a desk, it is often not at the correct height so we have to bend our necks to see the screen properly, and the keyboard is at an uncomfortable angle resulting in neck, wrist, and arm strain. The portability of the laptop is a great advantage, but physiotherapists urge you to think twice before you set it up just anywhere. A little care can prevent continuing problems.

Mobile phones

Texting is fun and a cheap way to stay in touch. But physiotherapists have seen a dramatic rise in thumb problems over the past few years. Hours spent texting at high speed without a break add up to strain of the thumb joint and sometimes damage to the muscles and ligaments involved. Some serial texters need to wear thumb splints or even to keep their arm in a sling until the acute pain subsides. Slowing down when texting will help avoid trouble, as will texting for no more than 10 minutes at a time.


Depending on the setup, gaming provides the opportunity to damage your neck, back, arm, wrist, and thumbs all at once! Controllers are often held out from the body, producing strain on your arms and neck, and once again the thumbs are in the firing line if care is not taken about how games are played. Children adopt awkward postures when gaming and this simply adds to the potential for serious damage. Parents should encourage children not to overdo the time spent gaming.

If you or your children are suffering aches and pains that are possible symptoms of overuse, it might be a good idea to ask your physio to check it out. Catching a problem early is the best cure.

Top tips for digital users

When using a laptop or when gaming, take a break and do some neck and shoulder stretches every 20 minutes.

Take frequent breaks from the computer. Get up and move around. Don’t sit for more than an hour at a time.

Try to connect your laptop to a monitor placed at the correct height, and use a full sized mouse (cordless, if possible) and keyboard, or angle the laptop to give a more ergonomic typing angle.

Provide a safe set up, and try to encourage children to adopt safe postures when using the new technologies.



Physiotherapy and you articles are provided for general information only and should in no way be considered as a substitute for the advice and information your physiotherapist will supply about your particular condition.

While every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate, the Australian Physiotherapy Association and the authors and the editors of the articles in this magazine and on this web site accept no responsibility and cannot guarantee the consequences if patients choose to rely upon these contents as their sole source of information about a condition and its rehabilitation.

These articles are reproduced with permission courtesy of the Australian Physiotherapy Association.