Cervical tinnitus: symptoms and treatments

Author: EarPros Team

Cervical tinnitus is a specific type of tinnitus where the perceived noises are believed to originate from disorders or dysfunctions in the cervical spine—the neck region consisting of seven vertebrae. Distinct from the more common auditory-system-related tinnitus, cervical tinnitus is thought to stem from the musculoskeletal and nervous systems within the cervical area. This suggests that factors such as neck alignment, muscle tension, and spinal health are crucial in the development and intensity of this tinnitus variant.

Cervical tinnitus symptoms: effects on daily life

Cervical tinnitus profoundly affects quality of life beyond just the auditory symptoms. It often leads to sleep disturbances, as the intrusive noise disrupts sleep patterns, worsened by accompanying neck pain. Headaches and migraines are also common, linked to the cervical spine's condition.

The condition's chronic nature can result in mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression, and cognitive issues like impaired concentration and memory. Socially, it hampers communication, leading to withdrawal from social interactions and difficulty in professional settings. Productivity at work can suffer due to the combined impact of cognitive, communicative, and physical challenges. Overall, cervical tinnitus significantly impacts daily life and well-being.

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Can cervical spondylosis cause tinnitus?

Yes, cervical spondylosis can potentially cause tinnitus. Cervical spondylosis is a condition related to age-related wear and tear affecting the spinal discs in your neck. As the discs degenerate and the spine becomes less flexible, it can lead to a narrowing of the space needed by the spinal cord and the nerves that pass through the spine to the rest of the body.

What causes cervical tinnitus and ringing in ears

The cervical spine and auditory system are interconnected both anatomically and functionally. The cervical spine encases the vertebral arteries, which provide blood to parts of the brain and inner ear, and houses cervical nerves that interact with the auditory system's nerves. Cervical spine dysfunction, including misalignment or nerve compression, can potentially impact auditory function and contribute to tinnitus.

Cervical spine injuries and ringing in ears

Cervical spine injuries are key contributors to cervical tinnitus, with a strong link between spine health and auditory function:

  • Whiplash: Common in rear-end collisions, whiplash can damage the cervical spine and lead to tinnitus, possibly due to altered somatosensory systems.
  • Herniated Discs: These can compress auditory nerves, causing tinnitus. A clear link exists between disc herniation and auditory disturbances.
  • Osteoarthritis: This condition in the cervical spine can impinge on hearing-related nerves, potentially resulting in tinnitus, highlighting the need for further research.

Can neck pain cervical problems cause tinnitus?

Yes. Poor posture and neck problems can adversely affect the cervical spine, increasing the risk of tinnitus:

  • Forward Head Posture: Common in the digital age, this posture strains the neck and cervical spine, potentially affecting nerves and blood vessels related to hearing. Correcting it may reduce tinnitus symptoms, emphasizing the importance of posture.
  • Scoliosis: This spinal curvature can disrupt cervical alignment, possibly contributing to tinnitus by altering neck anatomy and function. The link between scoliosis and tinnitus, though not fully understood, is an important consideration.
  • Muscle Tension and Strain: The tensor tympani and stapedius muscles, integral to the acoustic reflex that protects the inner ear from loud noises, can be affected by neck muscle tension, potentially leading to tinnitus.

Neurological and vascular issues

Neurological issues

  • Cervical Nerve Compression: The compression of the C2 and C3 cervical nerves might lead to ear-related symptoms like tinnitus, impacting the dorsal cochlear nucleus responsible for processing sound and touch.
  • Neuropathies: Nerve disruptions in the cervical spine, known as peripheral neuropathies, can interfere with nerve signaling, possibly contributing to tinnitus development.

Vascular issues

  • Jugular Vein Abnormalities: Issues with the jugular vein, like distention or compression, can create unusual blood flow sounds, often experienced as a kind of vascular tinnitus by the patient.
  • Carotid Artery Dissection: A tear in the carotid artery wall can alter blood flow, potentially perceived as tinnitus. This rare but serious condition needs urgent medical attention.
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Can cervical tinnitus be cured?

Yes! Cervical tinnitus can often be managed by treating underlying spinal issues, though it's crucial to consult healthcare providers for an appropriate treatment plan.

Discover tinnitus treatments

Treatment and management of cervical tinnitus

From medical interventions to lifestyle adjustments, various strategies can be employed to alleviate cervical tinnitus symptoms

  • Medications: anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants
  • Injections of corticosteroid and Botox
  • Physical therapy: neck and jaw exercises, spinal manipulation, and soft tissue mobilization
  • Posture correction and tinnitus relief exercises
  • Alternative therapies: acupuncture, chiropractic care, and massage therapy
  • Psychological interventions (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy)
  • Surgical options such as decompression surgery, and nerve release procedures
  • Lifestyle modifications related to diet and nutrition, sleep hygiene, and sound therapy

Alternative therapies to treat cervical tinnitus

  • Acupuncture and Massage Therapy: These therapies offer relaxation and stress relief, potentially easing tinnitus symptoms.
  • Chiropractic Care: Focuses on spinal health and may alleviate some tinnitus symptoms.

How to diagnose cervical tinnitus

Diagnosing cervical tinnitus involves a detailed evaluation to distinguish it from other types of tinnitus and underlying health issues.

The process starts with a thorough patient history to identify symptoms and potential triggers, such as neck injury or stress.

Physical examination of the neck and shoulders assesses for pain, range of motion, and muscle tenderness. Audiological evaluations, including hearing tests, sound matching, and masking, are critical to understanding the auditory aspects of the condition.

Imaging studies like X-rays, MRI, and CT scans offer insight into structural issues in the cervical spine that may be contributing to tinnitus. Differentiating cervical tinnitus from other forms is crucial, as it can influence treatment direction.

A multidisciplinary team approach, including specialists like audiologists, neurologists, and physiotherapists, ensures a comprehensive diagnosis and the formulation of a personalized treatment plan aimed at reducing symptoms and enhancing quality of life.

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How to prevent ringing in ears due to cervical tinnitus

Preventing cervical tinnitus involves maintaining neck health and avoiding risk factors. Key strategies include:

  • Ergonomic workplace and home adjustments to minimize neck strain
  • Yoga and Pilates for improved neck muscle strength and flexibility
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques to manage stress and reduce muscle tension
  • Protective measures during physical activities to prevent neck injury

Each of these approaches plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of developing cervical tinnitus and maintaining a healthy cervical spine.

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