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How Ringing in Your Ear is Related to Neck Pain

A woman suffering from Tinnitus

How Ringing in Your Ear is Related to Neck Pain

Have you noticed that the constant ringing in your ear accompanies neck pain? If so, you are probably suffering from tinnitus. Tinnitus and neck pain affects millions of people globally. And while you might think they are separate issues, the truth is that the two conditions are often linked. That’s why you should understand the relationship between neck pain and the persistent ringing in your ear.

So, our experienced doctors of physical therapy will explore the connection between tinnitus and neck pain. We’ll also discuss how physical therapy can be essential for managing this condition.

First Things First, What is Tinnitus?

Did you know that approximately 15% to 20% of people experience tinnitus at some point, with about 2% to 3% experiencing chronic tinnitus? The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) says various factors can cause tinnitus. It’s a condition that causes a persistent buzzing or ringing sound in the ears. Some factors that can cause this condition include:

  • Ear infections
  • Loud noises
  • Aging
  • Certain medications
  • Underlying medical conditions, including high blood pressure or temporomandibular joint disorder

Tinnitus can be a highly frustrating and distressing condition. This is especially true if it is persistent or severe. Not treating it in time can interfere with concentration, sleep, and daily activities. It can also lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

What Causes Tinnitus?

As previously mentioned, tinnitus can be caused by many factors, such as ear infections, consistent exposure to loud noises, and specific medication. Studies also suggest that tinnitus is linked to neck pain, primarily when the neck pain is caused by traumatic injuries such as whiplash.

The International Journal of Audiology conducted a study where they established that people with chronic neck pain are more likely to experience tinnitus than those without neck pain. This study suggests that the proximity of the neck muscle to the auditory system plays a role in the development of tinnitus. According to the study, when the muscles in the neck become tense, they can exert pressure on the blood vessels and nerves that supply the ears. This can cause tinnitus and other auditory symptoms.

 

A boy holding his ears while in pain


Another research published in the
Journal of Neuroscience suggests that brain auditory pathway changes can cause tinnitus. The study found that people with tinnitus often have increased activity in the auditory cortex. The auditory cortex processes sound even if no external noise is present.

Understanding the exact cause of the buzzing sound in your ears can help you and your healthcare providers to develop a more effective treatment plan to alleviate the symptoms and enhance the quality of your life.

What is Neck Pain?

The Global Burden of Disease study claims that neck pain significantly impacts an individual’s quality of life, the healthcare system, and society.

Neck pain can occur due to several factors, including:

  • Muscle strain
  • Muscle tension
  • Underlying medical conditions such as arthritis
  • Poor posture
  • Injuries such as pinched nerves and herniated discs

Neck pain symptoms vary from individual to individual based on the underlying cause. However, common symptoms include headache, soreness in the neck, limited range of motion, and pain that radiates down the arms or shoulders.

How is Tinnitus Related to Neck Pain?

Although the relationship between tinnitus and neck pain is not that clear, the truth is that both conditions may be interconnected. Research suggests that tinnitus and neck pain are related in some ways. Let’s explore these theories in detail below.

Muscular Tension

One theory that tries to explain the relationship between tinnitus and neck pain is muscular tension. According to the theory, the muscles and nerves in the neck are connected to the muscles and nerves in the ear. As a result, a strain on the neck muscles can put pressure on the blood vessels and nerves that serve the ear. This can cause tinnitus as well as other auditory symptoms.

Temporomandibular Joint Disease

Another theory is that the temporomandibular joint disorder can cause tinnitus. The temporomandibular joint connects the jaw bone to the skull. It’s a complex joint that allows your head to move. TMJ disorder can cause pain and stiffness in your jaw, shoulders, and neck. Studies suggest this disorder causes tinnitus by increasing muscle tension and reducing blood flow to the ears.

Poor Posture

Poor posture can also contribute to both neck pain and tinnitus. For instance, people who often spend a lot of time hunched over their phones or computers are likely to sprain the muscles in the neck and shoulders. This may cause pain and stiffness.

Traumatic Injuries

Finally, traumatic injuries such as whiplash or other injuries sustained in auto accidents can cause damage to the blood vessels and the nerves that supply the ears. This can cause tinnitus and other auditory symptoms.

What are Some of the Possible Treatment Options for Tinnitus and Neck Pain

Tinnitus and neck pain can be incredibly frustrating and significantly lower your quality of life. These conditions can make it hard to focus on work, get a good night’s sleep, or even enjoy leisure activities when dealing with constant pain and persistent buzzing in your ears. 

Fortunately, you can use various treatment options to deal with these symptoms and enhance your overall well-being. From sound therapy to physical therapy, there are several approaches your healthcare provider can use to treat neck pain and tinnitus. 

Let’s explore some commonly used treatment options without wasting time.

A doctor checking a patient's neck

✔Lifestyle Modification

One possible way to deal with tinnitus and neck pain is to make lifestyle modifications. Although it’s not always easy to modify your lifestyle, it can significantly reduce the severity of your symptoms and boost your quality of life. Some changes you can embrace include:

  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Incorporate regular exercises into your daily life
  • Practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Avoid exercises and activities that exacerbate your symptoms
  • Maintain a healthy diet

Embracing these lifestyle changes will give you control over your health and help you manage your symptoms. Remember, lifestyle changes take time, and you must be patient.

Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers

Although lifestyle modifications are incredibly effective in dealing with neck pain and tinnitus, taking over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can also help with symptom management. You can also take antidepressants such as amitriptyline to manage tinnitus symptoms even if you don’t have depression symptoms. These medications work by changing the way your brain interacts with pain signals. Alternatively, take steroids such as Prednisone to reduce inflammation in the inner ear.

Please note that medication should only be taken after the approval of a qualified healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider has the expertise to determine the proper medication for you and to monitor your progress.

Sound Therapy

If you prefer non-invasive approaches, then you should try sound therapy. Sound therapy uses sound to reduce the severity of tinnitus. During sound therapy appointments, your healthcare provider will use various sounds to treat tinnitus. These include:

  • White noise to mask the buzzing sound in your ears
  • Pink noise to improve sleep and reduce stress levels
  • Notched music to eliminate frequencies that are related to your tinnitus pitch
  • Hearing aids amplify external sounds and reduce the buzzing sound

However, it’s important to note that sound therapy may not be suitable for everyone. Sound therapy may also take some time before you see the results.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a natural treatment option for managing tinnitus and neck pain. It involves using exercises, stretches, and non-invasive modalities to help reduce symptoms and improve overall well-being. Your physical therapy doctor will diagnose thoroughly to determine the root cause of your condition and suggest the most suitable approaches. These may include:

  • Neck Exercises – Gentle stretches and movements can help improve blood circulation and reduce muscle tension.
  • Jaw Exercises – Jaw exercises can help reduce TMJ-related symptoms by reducing tension and improving jaw alignment.
  • Massage – Massage can help reduce stress levels that may exacerbate tinnitus symptoms. It can also improve blood circulation and reduce muscle tension.
  • Manual Therapy – Hands-on techniques such as joint manipulation or mobilization can enhance your range of motion and alleviate neck pain.
  • Posture Correction – Poor posture can contribute to tinnitus and neck pain. That’s why your doctor of physical therapy will help identify areas of poor posture and suggest exercises and stretches that can enhance your posture.

Why Physical Therapy is a Highly Effective Treatment Option for Tinnitus?

A doctor treating a patient's neck

Physical therapy has proved to be among the most effective treatment option for tinnitus and neck pain for several reasons. Here are some of the most notable.

  • It is a non-invasive treatment and does not involve medication or surgery.
  • Physical therapy treatment plans for tinnitus are tailored to your goals and unique needs.
  • Physical therapy focuses on underlying issues instead of the symptoms.
  • It enhances mobility and function.
  • Physical therapy can help prevent future injuries by improving posture and strengthening the muscles.
  • It is an evidence-based treatment option.

If you suspect you have tinnitus, don’t hesitate to contact our doctors of physical therapy in Chicago. We will diagnose the root cause of your condition and suggest effective treatment strategies to reduce the impact of tinnitus on your everyday life and enhance your overall health and well-being.

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