Sternocleidomastoid and Tinnitus


Is This Trigger Point Causing Your Tinnitus?

Have you had ringing or buzzing in the ear that hasn’t gone away? Have you already seen different doctors, specialists, had different tests done, yet still haven’t been able to figure out the ringing in the ear?

There are different causes of tinnitus. If you have already had your inner ear and hearing checked, but have not been able to identify the cause of the tinnitus, try examining your neck musculature, more specifically the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and Masseter muscle.

How Do The Scm And Masseter Affect The Ear?

When muscles are tight, over-used, or injured, they can form a local hyper-irritable, painful spot that can also be felt as a knot. This is called a trigger point. These points will cause pain in a specific predictable pattern to other areas of the body.

We have seen multiple cases in our Burnaby physiotherapy clinic that an active trigger point in the sternocleidomastoid can cause pain on the side of the head just behind the ear, around the eye, forehead, and cheekbone. It can also cause pain and ringing in the ear (tinnitus), as well as dizziness or vertigo. An active trigger point in the deep portion of the masseter muscle can also cause pain and tinnitus in the ear.

How Do I Know If I Have A Trigger Point At The Scm And Masseter, And How Do I Get Rid Of It?

Let’s do a self-examination. If you have tinnitus on the right ear, turn your head toward the left and bring the head slightly downward. Feel for the big tendinous muscle at the right side of the neck. This is the Sternocleidomastoid.

Take your thumb and two fingers and pinch firmly along the muscle belly starting from the lower part near your collarbone. Slowly pinch and hold, then repeat this held pressure as you move upward toward its attachment on your skull behind the earlobe. As you get closer to the earlobe,

Trigger Point

you may feel pain radiating in the pattern shown in red in the picture below, as well as your tinnitus worsening. 

To release this trigger point, gently squeeze the muscle at the areas where you feel radiating pain and hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until you feel the pain and or tinnitus slowly subside. Work up and down the entire muscle.

To examine for trigger points in the deep portion of the masseter muscle, find your cheekbone and follow the ridge toward the side of your head where your jaw joint or temporomandibular joint is. Find your TMJ by opening and closing your mouth, and you will feel movement at the joint.

The deep portion of the muscle attaches just in front of this joint. Press firmly in this area and check to see if your tinnitus has intensified. To release this trigger point, press down on the area of the muscle where you feel the tinnitus and hold for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shift your fingers around and look for other sore areas and repeat.

After you have released the trigger points, you should feel an immediate lightening of your tinnitus.

How Can I Prevent These Trigger Points From Forming?

There are some simple things you can watch out for to prevent these trigger points from re-activating. The first is to watch out for your activities and positions throughout the day. Positions such as poking out the chin, looking at a screen over to one side will tighten the sternocleidomastoid.

The second way is to watch out for activities such as clenching the jaw, biting down on hard food, chewing gum, and biting your nails. These activities will tighten the masseter. If you clench during the night, talk to your dentist about a nightguard. Just by changing these small habits, you should be able to see an improvement in your tinnitus.

As well, our physiotherapists in Burnaby can assess your alignment and movement patterns to see if there are other factors contributing to the formation of this trigger point. Certain alignment issues such as a misaligned pelvis can lead to chronic trigger points in your SCM.

How Does A Trigger Point Cause Tinnitus?

Our ears detect sound through the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve sends information collected from your inner ear to your spinal cord, then to the brain where it is processed and heard as sound.

Along this neural pathway, other inputs from the head and neck also get integrated, so stimulus from our sensory systems such as touch, pain, pressure, position, and movement from muscles, joints, skin, and other connective tissue in this area can affect and change our hearing. This leads to tinnitus, or more specifically, somatosensory tinnitus.

Somatosensory Tinnitus

What Are Some Other Ways To Help?

Other methods that can help relax tight muscles can be done by yourself at home, but some will require some treatment by a health professional. Our physiotherapy services can help identify and direct your healing. Other home remedies include:

1. Moist Heat

Place a moist heat pack along with the SCM and masseter muscle for 10-20 minutes. The heat will help relax and bring circulation to the immediate area.

2. Stretching

Stretch the SCM muscle by bringing the ear without tinnitus down toward the shoulder, then extend the head back. You will feel a stretch of the SCM muscle on the affected side. Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute, and repeat 2-3 times.

Our Burnaby Physiotherapists at EastWest physio can use other methods such as acupuncture, electrotherapy, and ultrasound to help release these areas. Please contact our Burnaby physiotherapy office if you would like to see how we can help!


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