Tinnitus and neck pain

Updated July 19, 2017

An injury to the neck, whether resulting in whiplash, muscle strain or damage to the upper spine, can also cause a persistent ringing in the ears. This ringing is called tinnitus, and it can become a life-disrupting disorder, especially when it is combined with pain in the neck. In the instance of persistent neck pain and tinnitus, the culprit is usually an injury to the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Neck Pain

The sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) stretches from the back of your ear down to the collarbone. It helps move your head, and it aids in breathing. Injuries to this muscle are quite common, as having tinnitus that relates to an SCM injury. Because of the muscle's closeness to the ear, injuries to it frequently include disruptions in hearing that are the symptoms of tinnitus.


Tinnitus is classified as any ringing, buzzing or hissing sound that does not come from outside the head. This means that only the sufferer hears it. Although tinnitus is a medical condition, it is not categorised as a disease, but as a disorder. Tinnitus can be experienced either as sounds that can be heard in concert to the rhythm of the heartbeat or pulse, or as a continuous sound heard in either one or both ears.

Neck Injuries and Tinnitus

To determine if an injury to the neck and tinnitus are related, a doctor must be consulted. The most typical way for a physician to know if the two are related is to prescribe a soft neck brace, which is worn for a few days. Once a relationship between the neck pain and tinnitus is established, treatment can begin.


Both medical doctors and chiropractors are qualified to treat this condition. A firm diagnosis is frequently made using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a CT scan. A hearing test performed by an audiologist may also be recommended. Treatment can vary from simple massages to surgery to repair the neck muscle damage. Medications may also be prescribed.

Prevention and Consultation

Prevention is the key to avoiding neck pain and related tinnitus. Although most causes have an organic or physiological nature, stress and anxiety can also be contributors, as can arthritis. The Mayo Clinic recommends that those with neck pain consult a physician if the pain "shoots" into the shoulder or down the arm; if there is numbness in either the arms or hands; or if they cannot tuck their chin down to the point where it can rest on their chest.

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About the Author

Cindy L. Sabatino began her medical writing career in 1980. Her additional experience includes working in the public relations departments of two hospitals, and serving as writer/editor for a major publishing compamy. She was also an editor at "Shutterbug" magazine. Sabatino obtained her Bachelor of Science in journalism from Ohio University.