Can Stiff Neck Muscles And Neck Pain Cause Tinnitus?
January 23, 2021
Stiff Neck Muscles and Pain Causing Tinnitus
Everyone at some point in their lives has heard that ringing, whooshing, or buzzing sound after a concert, listening to loud music, or even staying in a quiet room alone.

That is a temporal type of tinnitus, and its cause is quite obvious as loud noises are generally known to affect the human ears. But ever wonder if you hear those same sounds because of neck pain or stiff neck?

You had whiplash or some sort of damage to your neck, and all of a sudden, you start hearing that buzzing noise in your ears and begin to wonder if there is a connection.

We will answer that for you in this piece, but before that, let's have to look at what a stiff neck is? What causes it? What is tinnitus? How does it connect to stiff neck and neck pain? And can a stiff neck cause tinnitus? Plus, what are the common treatments to help relieve you of the tinnitus discomfort?

Let's get started.

What is a Stiff Neck?

Stiff Neck Muscles

A stiff neck is usually characterized by difficulty in initiating neck motion, which the sufferer of the same experiences when they attempt to turn their head right, left, upwards, or downwards. It's usually accompanied by neck pain, headaches, arm pain, or shoulder pain. And for the person suffering from neck pain to look over their shoulder or sideways, they may need to move their entire body, not just the neck, to avoid the pain.

Most people are used to the inconvenience or pain caused by a stiff neck, whether it came during the day after some strenuous exercise like carrying heavy furniture or developed in the morning upon waking up due to bad sleep positioning.

Neck pain and stiffness in most cases naturally go away within short periods. But identifying the cause of the stiff neck and how you manage it can affect the recovery time, the pain level, and the possibility of its return.

Causes of a Stiff Neck


A stiff neck is usually caused by a soft tissue sprain or muscle strain. The levator scapulae muscle, in particular, is susceptible to injury. And is located on the side and back of your neck. The levator scapulae muscle is what connects your neck's cervical spine to your shoulder. The third and fourth cervical nerves control this muscle (C3 and C4).

The levator scapulae muscle can get strained doing many regular daily activities like:

  • A sudden impact that moves the head to the side like whiplash during a vehicular accident and sports injuries.
  • Sleeping with your neck in a bad position.
  • Moving your head from side-to-side consistently during an activity like swimming.
  • Sitting with bad posture while using a computer or a smartphone for extended periods. This is sometimes called "text neck.”
  • Experiencing excessive anxiety or stress, which leads to neck tension.
  • Keeping your neck in an awkward position for extended periods, such as holding your phone between your shoulder and neck.

If the symptoms of a stiff neck start right away, you can easily tell what caused it, for instance, falling during sporting activity. However, if the stiff neck comes out of the blue, it's a lot harder to know where it's coming from.

Uncommon Sources of a Stiff Neck

At times a stiff neck happens due to an underlying disorder of your cervical spine, which assists in the movement and support of your neck as well as protects the spinal cord. Examples of cervical spine disorders responsible for painful muscle spasms or tightening are:

Cervical Herniated Disc

This disorder involves the protective outer portion of a disc within the cervical spine breaking down and the inner portion leaking out, which causes inflammation and compression in tissues close by.

Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease

If your disc loses height and hydration overtime, pressure amplifies on nearby nerve joints and soft tissues like muscles and ligaments. This process ends in neck stiffness and pain.

Cervical Osteoarthritis

This is an arthritic breakdown of your cervical facet joints in the middle of vertebral bones. Most times, it happens alongside other degenerative symptoms like spinal stenosis and anatomical alterations like bone spurs.

These conditions aren't the complete list of the causes of a stiff neck; though rare, there are other possible causes like tumors and infections.

Stiff Neck Symptoms

Stiff neck varies in intensity ranging from discomforting, very painful, sharp pain, and limited. If you attempt to turn your stiff neck to a particular direction or side, the result will be so much pain that it will cause the motion to cease.

This neck motion reduction will affect the patient's activity levels. For instance, if you can't turn your head in the direction of your choice without experiencing extreme pain, you'll have to avoid driving until the symptoms recede.

How Does a Stiff Neck Relate to Tinnitus?

Now you know what a stiff neck is, the causes, and symptoms, you may be wondering how this relates to my tinnitus?

The answer is simple. Tinnitus is a condition that is a result of other underlying factors and not itself. So that ringing, buzzing, and whooshing sound you hear is because of something else.

This means the easiest way to get rid of that sound is by fixing the underlying cause. So if you can identify the cause of your stiff neck and fix it, you'll handle your tinnitus. That said, before we see how a stiff neck causes tinnitus in the first place, let's see why tinnitus occurs.

Why Does Tinnitus Happen?

While tinnitus is due to some underlying causes, it happens because of the impact those "underlying causes" have on your ears. And here or some of those impacts:

  • Ear Blockage: If your ear becomes blocked because of excess ear wax (cerumen) or by ear fluid build-up termed endolymphatic hydrops, tinnitus will occur.
  • Medication Side Effects: Many medications have tinnitus as a side effect, and the most common ones include particular anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, aspirin, quinine, and antidepressants.
  • Deterioration: if certain parts of your inner ear or the cochlea start to break down, it can cause a ringing or buzzing sound.
  • Medical Conditions: Particular medical conditions like high blood pressure, anemia, allergies, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular issues, and thyroid issues can lead to tinnitus. Also, certain vestibular conditions like Meniere's disease have tinnitus as their main symptoms.

How Do These Impacts to the Ear that Cause Tinnitus Relate to Your Neck?

Neck Stiffness Related Tinnitus

A bone in your neck is located under your skull, termed the C1 vertebra or Atlas. This bone is placed almost right between the jaw joints and ears; hence everything in this location of your body can be affected by a slight misalignment. This is why ear and jaw issues happen hand-in-hand and why patients who suffer from such issues have neck pains.

Let's have a closer look at how these negative impacts listed above connect to your neck.

Misaligned Atlas

A misaligned Atlas can impact your ear structures. In particular, the eustachian tubes play a critical role. These eustachian tubes drain excess fluid from your ears and enable the draining process to be done safely. But if there is an inhibition in the tube function, the fluid can build up, which ends in tinnitus. Even if you have a ringing in your ears due to a blockage, the cause could still be a stiff neck.


Anti-inflammatories or aspirin could be prescribed for chronic neck pain. And these medications may be responsible for the tinnitus. So if you're relieved of the neck pain, then the medications may no longer be necessary, which stops the tinnitus sound. The connection here is that the medication for neck pain causes tinnitus, and once the neck pain is relieved, you no longer need to take the medicines, which stops the symptoms of tinnitus.


Hypertension is a known cause of tinnitus, and upper cervical chiropractic can help relieve hypertension, which shows a relation between the condition and your neck. This means that neck relief can fix this particular tinnitus that occurs due to high blood pressure.

Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease, a common underlying cause of tinnitus, can be treated by correcting upper cervical problems. In a particular study involving 139 Meniere's patients, the symptoms were improved significantly by upper cervical chiropractic for all but just 3 in the study. This again shows the connection between the underlying cause of tinnitus and the neck. If tinnitus’s underlying cause can be fixed by attending to the neck, then there's a connection.

Neck and Head Injuries

Neck and head injuries are usually caused by upper neck misalignment. So it makes sense to relieve the misalignment to help the symptoms that result due to the injury. And tinnitus is just one of numerous symptoms that occur after a whiplash, concussion, or any other type of neck or head injury. Other symptoms include vertigo, dizziness, neck pain, headaches, migraines, and much more.

Treatments of Tinnitus Due to a Stiff Neck

While there is no standard cure for tinnitus, majorly because it is due to an underlying condition, there are many ways you can get relief from the tinnitus sounds as a result of a stiff neck by handling the cause of the problem.

Here are some of them:

Chiropractic Help

Infographic of Spinal Vertebrae

Based on what we've seen in this article so far, it's clear that people suffering from tinnitus should examine their upper cervical spine or upper neck to find the cause of the tinnitus.

If an atlas misalignment is found, then it could be the major underlying cause of the ringing, whistling, or buzzing sound you're trying to get rid of. That said, what does upper cervical chiropractic treatment involve?

  • Focus on the two top bones of the spine.
  • Contemporary diagnostic imaging techniques that can pinpoint with precision misalignments up to the hundredth of a degree. Such precision allows the practitioner to give you adequate adjustments and permits low-force corrections to be done, as you won't have your spine cracked, popped, or twisted.

Get a Massage

Neck Massages for Tinnitus

A massage can help relieve tinnitus symptoms in various ways. Massages can reduce stress, which is responsible for causing certain types of tinnitus and its underlying conditions. It can also help resolve postural challenges that may indirectly cause tinnitus.

Muscle tension amplifies tinnitus symptoms as well, and by having a massage, you can reduce tense muscles and correct jaw, head, and neck misalignment, which stress the inner ear.

How Does a Tinnitus Massage Work?

When getting a massage, specific points around your neck will be targeted with the massage to relieve you of tinnitus symptoms. For example, holding the bottom of your earlobe and tugging it softly upwards and to the sides is an effective maneuver.

Stretching your ears like this will help reduce fluid build-up in your inner ear, which can relieve the annoying buzzing, whooshing, and ringing sounds in your ears.

Another area where the tinnitus massage focuses on is the mastoid process, which is the bony part of your skull, right behind your ear. This place (the mastoid process) connects to many of the muscles surrounding the ear and neck. Using a gentle Swedish massage on the mastoid process helps relieve neck and ear muscle tension and permits the neck to shift back into its right alignment.

Then there is the masseter muscle that connects the jaw to the skull and is located at the jawbone nearest to your earlobe. This muscle is the most powerful in your body in proportion to its size. And if it is overly tensed, it will lead to misalignment and a ringing sound in your ears. So any massage that aims to relieve tinnitus will target the masseter muscle as well.

What to Do and Not-Do When you Have a Stiff Neck

Most times, relaxing for a day or two is all you will need to allow your neck issues to heal. But in some instances of extreme pain, you may want to get an over-the-counter medication or undergo heat therapy, or simply place ice over the hurting location.

However, putting on a cervical collar to immobilize a stiff neck isn't advisable. Instead, a patient with a stiff neck should try sticking to their regular activities, if possible, particularly on the first and second day.

That said if your stiff neck doesn't improve
after a week then you may want to check it with a doctor. And irrespective of how long it's lasted, if other symptoms accompany your stiff neck alongside tinnitus like nausea, vomiting, fever, and headaches, then you should visit a medical professional right away.


Can a stiff neck and neck pain cause tinnitus? The answer is yes. The human body is so interconnected that damage to your neck by any means can end up affecting your ears, which will lead to that irritating buzzing, whooshing, and ringing sound.

While there is no specific treatment for tinnitus, to get rid of the sound, you need to fix the underlying issues, and in this case, it is a stiff neck or neck pain. And there are so many ways to fix a stiff neck and neck pain, including massage, chiropractic care, or medications.

But most times, what you may need is just a day or two of relaxing to get rid of the stiff neck or neck pain.

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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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