After 20 years of practising as a physiotherapist specialising in musculoskeletal pain, Professor Michele Sterling noted similar injuries didn’t equate to similar recovery patterns when it came to whiplash.

Professor Sterling’s dedication to whiplash recovery has led her to complete a Masters and a PhD as well as become a Professor in the Menzies Health Institute Queensland and the School of Allied Health, Director of Recover Injury Research Centre and a council member of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).

Thanks to a NHMRC grant, Professor Sterling is undertaking a study that aims to investigate early intervention approaches to prevent chronic pain among whiplash patients.

Prof Michele Sterling

Prof Michele Sterling

“One theory is that incidents that cause whiplash – most frequently motor vehicle accidents – also impact on the way a patient’s central nervous system (CNS) processes pain,” Professor Sterling says.

“When the CNS winds up, pain can be perceived as being disproportionate to the original injury and becomes more widespread, but still equating to chronic pain.”

Professor Sterling is working with physiotherapists and clinical psychologists in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Mackay and Toowoomba to help identify patients at risk following a whiplash incident.

“It’s unlikely people will seek the help of a psychologist within the first few weeks of an accident, but they will often see a physio,” Professor Sterling says.

“We’re hoping to better equip physiotherapists to offer psychological support.”

“Causes are multi-factorial and need to be addressed from a bio-psycho-social model, not just a biomechanical one.”