Chiropractic Care For Tinnitus: Explained

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Woman getting a chiropractic neck adjustment

As we know with many parts of our body, things are interconnected. The same could be said about our ears, head and neck, and there has been much talk about whether or not chiropractic treatment for tinnitus symptoms show any efficacy. In this blog we will explore whether or not neck adjustments can relieve tinnitus symptoms.

What Is Chiropractic Care?

Chiropractic treatment is an intervention completed by a chiropractor, or a doctor of chiropractic. In chiropractic care, a trained specialist uses either their hands or a small instrument to deliver a “controlled, sudden force” to a joint within the spine. Chiropractic care is also called spinal manipulation, as it involves the manipulation of those joints to improve motion throughout the spine and increase the body’s overall function.

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Doctors of chiropractic care specialize in the musculoskeletal system, or the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and nerves. Chiropractic adjustments are designed to treat numerous ailments, some of them directly related to the spine and some indirectly related, in order to support healthy function and healing. Treating patients primarily for pain is common, but chiropractors can also be consulted for issues of function and general health.

What Is Tinnitus–Ringing In Your Ears?

Tinnitus is frequently a condition of the inner ear, though it can occur in response to damages or infection in the middle and outer ear. Tinnitus is diagnosed when a patient reports the sound of ringing, buzzing, whooshing, or swishing, without an external source of the sound. The exact sound of the phantom noise differs–though it is most often described as ringing–and the way tinnitus presents can be drastically different from one person to the next. Ringing in your ears can occur intermittently or constantly, and affect one or both ears. Acute tinnitus describes symptoms that arise for a short period, while chronic tinnitus is characterized by at least three months of symptoms. Symptom relief is currently the recommended course of treatment, as there is not a cure for tinnitus as of the time of this writing.

What Are Some Of The Underlying Causes Of Tinnitus?

Ringing in your ears can be caused by several different things. Although the unpleasant ringing can initially seem to be unrelated to any specific condition, there are several disorders and conditions that can ultimately lead to tinnitus onset. The most common causes include:

  • Hearing loss. Hearing loss is a common cause of tinnitus, because the processes that lead to the loss of hearing can interrupt communication within the auditory system and trigger phantom sounds. This is typically an example of subjective tinnitus, or tinnitus in which the sounds and experiences are highly subjective and differ from patient to patient. There are different types of loss, including:
    • Sensorineural hearing loss. This type of loss is incurred by noise exposure, age related hearing loss (presbycusis), acoustic neuroma, and idiopathic-related sudden loss.
    • Conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss is any type of loss due to the loss of sound transmission through the middle ear. Conductive loss is typically a result of conditions, such as otitis externa (swimmer’s ear), otitis media, otosclerosis, or cholesteatoma.
    • Mixed hearing loss. Mixed loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural roots.
  • Medication/ototoxic exposure. Some medications and substances are ototoxic, or damaging to the ear. This can be one of the underlying causes of tinnitus, and does not necessarily mean permanent ear damage has occurred.
  • Hypertension. One often overlooked cause of tinnitus is hypertension, unless an objective tinnitus type is present, such as pulsatile tinnitus.
Person with diabetes measuring their blood sugar levels
  • Diabetes. Although it is not one of the common underlying causes of the condition, diabetes can function as a neurological condition when it is not treated or managed, and nerve damage and neurological damage can lead to issues with hearing loss and balance and, subsequently, tinnitus.
  • Kidney disease. Kidney disease can be tied to tinnitus, in part due to the similarity of the structures of the ears and kidneys.
  • Meniere’s disease. Meniere’s disease is a disease of the inner ear, in which the chambers fill with fluid and lead to issues such as ringing in your ears and vertigo.
  • Autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the body essentially attacks itself. These disorders can lead to hearing issues that act as a peripheral symptom.
  • Head and neck injury. Head and neck injury can lead to tinnitus, which we will discuss in greater detail below.

Although there are more potential causes, these are some of the most common or likely root causes of ringing in one ear or both.

How The Upper Cervical Spine Affects Tinnitus

Image of the upper cervical spine

There are those who have argued that compression or injury of the upper cervical spine or tension in the surrounding muscles can all either cause or exacerbate symptoms of tinnitus. A specific type of tinnitus called cervicogenic tinnitus is believed to be caused by disruption of nerve signals as a result of neck injury or dysfunction within the upper cervical spine. In this case, tinnitus treatment may focus less on standard interventions, and more on intervention addressing the spine, to help heal the nerve signals thought to be the origin of tinnitus sounds.

Cervical spine tinnitus is not widely recognized in the medical community, but there is one documented case of an individual who found relief when his cervical spine was addressed with chiropractic care after 20 years of chronic tinnitus. Other treatment options may include muscle manipulation (think massage), physical therapy, and specific chiropractic care. If tinnitus and neck pain or neck trauma are both present, patients may want to consider upper cervical chiropractic treatment.

Somatosensory Tinnitus

Tense muscles in the neck, face, and jaw can lead to somatosensory tinnitus, or a type of tinnitus that is often characterized by changes to loudness, pitch, or localization when stimulation from the head or neck occurs. This particular type of the condition can respond to cervical spinal manipulation, and seems to be related to problems of the head and neck, without a direct response to issues within the ear. Stretching and chiropractic care to address misalignments in the cervical spine and thoracic spine have both been shown to provide relief from the severity of symptoms in this particular type of tinnitus, making chiropractic care for tinnitus a valuable intervention.

How Chiropractic Care Can Help With Ringing In The Ears

Because chiropractic care is aimed at treating different types of vertebral misalignment and misaligned elements within the cervical spine can lead to the onset of tinnitus or exacerbation of symptoms, chiropractic care for tinnitus can be a promising option when an underlying condition like neck injury or TMJ pain is present. Knowing how to treat tinnitus typically begins with knowing where the initial issue lies, and chiropractic care for tinnitus may be the ideal treatment for tinnitus relief when issues with the head, neck, or jaw are involved.

Woman getting a chiropractic neck adjustment for tinnitus relief

The first step is finding a chiropractor who is both licensed and trained to understand this particular condition to deliver a chiropractic management plan that alleviates tinnitus symptoms. Even in these cases, it is important to continue to pursue a multidisciplinary approach to tinnitus treatment, to make sure all bases are covered and all potential issues are addressed. An audiologist can help partner with a chiropractor to address tinnitus relief.

A Multidisciplinary Approach To Treating Tinnitus

A multidisciplinary approach to addressing tinnitus and the inner ear can include chiropractic management to treat tinnitus symptoms, in addition to consulting with an audiologist, evaluating your medical history for any underlying condition leading to tinnitus of any kind. If, for instance, you are experiencing neck pain or you have a temporomandibular disorder, addressing the root cause of those issues can help find which tinnitus treatment works for you.

Treble Health’s audiology team can address all types of tinnitus, and addressing a patient’s tinnitus from the perspective of management and intervention is one of the ways audiologists help relieve symptoms. From hearing aids, to recommending the best ways to avoid loud noises, to recommending earwax removal, an audiologist can help determine the best way to address tinnitus and some of the other symptoms that can come along with ringing in the ears. Common interventions with an audiologist include:

  • Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). TRT can help with tinnitus by addressing both the ringing associated with the condition, and offering a counseling portion to help retrain responses to symptom onset.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT can help with tinnitus by helping patients address the way they are feeling about tinnitus symptoms. Lessening depression and anxiety can help patients cope with their diagnosis better, and can actually help limit symptoms, as tinnitus can spike when anxiety and depression are present.
  • Sound therapy. Sound therapy can help with tinnitus by essentially masking the sounds of tinnitus. When sounds are present, the effects of ringing in your ears can be limited, which can alleviate discomfort.

Tinnitus treatment works best when it is completed from a wider perspective that can encompass different treatment methods and interventions. From preventing further issues by limiting exposure to loud noises, to addressing issues with the upper cervical spine, to treating temporomandibular joint disorder, addressing inner ear issues and tinnitus symptoms is most often effective when different tracks are taken, in order to address mental health, the actual sounds of tinnitus, and any underlying causes to relieve symptoms and reduce the severity and scope of the condition. 

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