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Whiplash – My Doctor says I have A WAD. What does this mean?

Whiplash of the neck is caused by any sudden involuntary forced movement of the head in any direction and the resultant rebound of the head or neck in the opposite direction. Consequently there are injuries to the surrounding and supporting tissues of the neck and head, which in turn may lead to a variety of signs and symptoms that you may be feeling.

Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) is a categorization of the neck signs and symptoms that may be present following a motor vehicle collision. These symptoms can present themselves immediately following the collision or several days after.

Your physical therapist or Doctor will utilize several criteria to arrive at the categorization that applies to your injuries. It is important to know that WAD 1-4 is a categorization to assist with the claim process and is not necessarily a complete diagnosis as you may have other injuries to the spine not captured by this system. The WAD category system was created by the Quebec Task Force in 1995 and there is no general agreement about the clinical usefulness of the WAD-classification or of the suggested follow-up regimen that exists. That being said, In Alberta, this is the system that the government implemented in order to classify your injury for the purposes of insurance claims processing and the determination of bodily injury settlements.

WAD categories:

WAD 1 – Neck pain complaints, only stiffness or tenderness (normal range of motion)

WAD 2 – Neck complaints of pain and stiffness and musculo-skeletal signs (decreased range of motion and point tenderness)

WAD 3 – Neck complaints and neurological signs (weakness, sensory and reflex changes)

WAD 4 – Neck complaints and fracture and/or dislocation

There can be many more symptoms that arise following a motor vehicle collision:

Other symptoms that you may be feeling include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, shoulder girdle pain, impaired vision, sleep disturbances and/or jaw pain. The symptoms that are present at the time of the collision may change considerably over the first 4-6 weeks and should be monitored by your Doctor and/or physical therapist to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

A last thought:

WAD is a categorical system that was developed to research NECK injuries following motor vehicle collisions. Following a car accident, there can be injuries to various regions of the spine as well as the extremities. It is important to have these areas assessed in order to begin an appropriate global rehabilitation program aimed at getting  you back to activities that you enjoy.


This information is not meant to replace the advice or treatment of a qualified physician or physiotherapist.  It is meant for information only.  Please seek an assessment and discuss your treatment options with your caregiver prior to making a decision about your treatment path.


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