How Long Does Tinnitus Last After Whiplash?
February 11, 2021
Woman neck pain
Whiplash is a condition that occurs when a person's head is suddenly forced backward and then forward. This sudden movement causes the neck muscles and ligaments to extend beyond the normal range of motion, thereby making them tear.

The sudden movement also stresses the cervical spine, and this will cause you to experience pain and discomfort.

The medical term used to describe the mechanism of action that occurs when there is a sudden movement of the head is Cervical Acceleration-Deceleration (CAD). On the other hand, Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD) is the medical term used to describe the injuries and symptoms. In this post, we will be using the non-medical term whiplash.

Asides from pain and discomfort, there are other side effects of whiplash. One of which is tinnitus. In this post, we will help you answer how long tinnitus caused by whiplash lasts. But first, let's extensively examine whiplash, its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Whiplash Causes

High impact events often cause whiplash. Any activity or event that causes the head to swing backward and forward can cause whiplash suddenly. Below are some whiplash causes.

  1. Vehicle Accidents

    Two Vehicle accident

    Vehicle accidents, especially those caused by impact from the rear, are the most common causes of whiplash. Likewise, whiplash is one of the most common nonfatal car accident injuries.

    Whiplash caused by car accidents does not occur because of the speed at which the car is moving; instead, it is caused by the sudden jolt, which causes the head to be abruptly thrown back. The more sudden the motion, the more the damage is done.

    It is important to note that the use of seat belts can worsen whiplash. While seat belts may reduce body injuries, they can increase cervical injuries due to the restricting of trunk movement.

  2. Physical Assault or Abuse

    Any physical assault that includes a hit, blow, or punch to the head can cause whiplash. Being violently kicked or shaken can also cause whiplash.

    Whiplash is one of the injuries experienced by children who have shaken baby syndrome. The shaken baby syndrome occurs when an adult severely shakes a child out of anger or frustration. This often causes permanent brain damage or death.

  3. Contact Sports

    Collisions with other players often characterize sporting activities like football; this can cause whiplash. Sports activities like boxing and wrestling that include some level of violence can increase whiplash risks.

  4. Recreational Activities

    Certain recreational activities like bungee jumping, skiing accidents, and amusement park rides like roller coasters can cause the sudden movement of the neck and head, resulting in whiplash.

How Whiplash Occurs

As stated earlier, whiplash occurs when there is a sudden forward and backward movement of the head, which is often caused by impact. The most common cause of whiplash is a rear-end car accident.

To better understand whiplash, let's examine the process of whiplash injury caused by a car accident.

When there is a rear-end collision, there are five phases or stages of events that occur in rapid succession that results in whiplash injury. Here are the phases

  • First, when the collision happens from behind, the car seat is pushed against the back.
  • The spine is exposed to too much force, making the cervical spine compress upward against the head.
  • The torso, which is in contact with the seat, accelerates forward. But because the head is not in contact with the seat, it doesn't accelerate with the torso; this distorts the cervical spine’s shape.

    The shape temporarily changes from the natural C-shape to an S-shape. This abnormal compression and distortion of the shape can damage neck structures like the facet joints and intervertebral discs.
  • Next, the head slams backward into the accelerating seat. This sudden backward extension of the neck causes the soft tissues in front of the neck to get injured.
  • When the head hits the seat, it bounces off the seat and accelerates forward. If you have your seat belt on, the seat belt will restrain your body. This causes the neck to go rapidly flex as the head moves forward, thereby resulting in the damage of the soft tissues at the back of the neck.

Whiplash Symptoms

In most cases, the effects of the impact may not be felt immediately. You may only begin to feel some symptoms after a few hours.

Depending on the severity of the impact, the symptoms of whiplash may include the following.

  1. Neck Pain and Stiffness
    The sudden forward and backward movement and the slamming of the head and neck on the car seat can cause varying degrees of neck pain and stiffness.

  2. Loss of Range of Motion
    The neck’s rapid movement causes the neck’s ligaments and muscles to stretch beyond their normal range of motion, resulting in the temporary loss of range of motion in the neck.

  3. Tenderness or Pain in Other Parts of the Body
    Your head and neck are not the only parts of your body that are affected when you have a whiplash injury, mainly if a car collision causes the injury.

    You will experience pain and tenderness in your arms, shoulder, and upper back in most cases. You may also experience numbness and tingling in your arms.

  4. Headache and Dizziness
    Passenger feeling dizzy in a train travel
    This is a common symptom experienced by most people who have suffered whiplash. The head and neck’s sudden movement causes a headache, which often starts at the skull base. You may also experience temporary dizziness or loss of balance.

  5. Painful Neck Movement
    Due to the force of the impact and the soft tissues’ tearing at the front and rear of the neck, you will experience pain when moving your neck.

  6. Other Symptoms
    Depending on the degree of the impact and the damage done to your head and neck, you may experience other symptoms like irritability, depression, temporary memory problems, ringing in the ears, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances.

    While most of these symptoms will disappear after a few days, there are other symptoms you may experience that indicate that the whiplash is serious. Urgent medical attention is required if you experience any of the symptoms outlined below.

    Neck instability
    Numbness, weakness, tingling, or pain that radiates into the arm, shoulder, and hand.
    Changes in behavior or mental health issues like depression, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and reduced concentration.
    Problem with balance and coordination.
    Severe or unbearable pain.

How Long Does Tinnitus Last After Whiplash

man in neck pain


As stated earlier, one of the symptoms or side effects of whiplash is tinnitus. Tinnitus is a condition that causes a person to hear noises in the ear when there is no external source of the noise.

Tinnitus noise can be high-pitched or low-pitched, loud or muffled, and can manifest as a ringing, whistling, whooshing, roaring, clicking, buzzing, or humming noise.

In veterans, whiplash is responsible for some of the most severe cases of tinnitus. The sudden forward and backward movement of the head caused by heavy impact can damage the intervertebral cartilage, ligaments, and nerves in the neck and cause tinnitus.

Tinnitus caused by whiplash is not just a result of the sudden movement of the head and neck; it is also caused by the acoustic trauma caused by airbag deployment.

Also, the head and neck movement beyond their normal range of movement (hyperextension and hyperflexion) can cause the sudden flinging open and closure of the mouth. This sudden opening and closing cause the elongation and compression of the Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ) this can cause a temporomandibular joint disorder. A malfunctioning or disorder of the TMJ is one of the major causes of tinnitus.

Having understood how whiplash can cause tinnitus, let's find out how long tinnitus caused by whiplash lasts.

After experiencing whiplash, the first thing you should do is to visit an audiologist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. Even if you do not feel any pain after the incident, whiplash pain and side effects often do not surface until hours after the incident.

Seeing a doctor immediately will help to minimize the effects of the whiplash. Delaying your visit to the doctor can cause more damage than you can imagine, and in some cases, specific side effects should have been temporary become permanent.

Side effects of whiplash-like tinnitus need prompt medical attention to avoid deterioration. If the damage done to your ear is mild, the tinnitus may disappear after a few hours or days.

If, however, the damage is severe, the tinnitus may be permanent. In this case, the doctor will book you for tinnitus retraining therapy or give you a hearing instrument that will mask the tinnitus.

There is no specific timeline for tinnitus caused by whiplash to disappear. It can disappear within a few days, longer for months, or even be there forever. The duration of the tinnitus is dependent on the degree of damage done. In some cases, certain factors like age or the health history of a person can worsen the tinnitus caused by whiplash.


While you may not be able to control certain situations like accidents that can cause whiplash, you can restrict your involvement in sporting and recreational activities that can cause it.
If you develop tinnitus after experiencing a whiplash, visit your doctor.

Even though there is no direct cure for tinnitus, identifying and handling the problem that caused the tinnitus can help accelerate the tinnitus’s disappearance.

If you have been diagnosed with permanent tinnitus, don't get depressed. There are various medical ways that you can be assisted to help you live everyday life.

Have you ever suffered whiplash? Did tinnitus accompany it? How long did the tinnitus last?

Share your experiences with us.

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Drew Sutton M.D.

Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.

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