Why Do My Ears Hurt After Running Or Exercise?

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Have you ever had a good workout only to find that your ears hurt after running or exercising? It can be strange, painful, and uncomfortable. You might not even know why it’s happening.

We’re used to feeling sore after a workout, perhaps even achy joints here and there. But ears aren’t something that we usually consider!

But the big question is: why does this ear pain happen? At best, it can be annoying. At its worst, it can make you lose the motivation to run.

Here are some reasons your ears may hurt after a run or working out. The first step to fixing the problem is knowing why it’s happening!

Why Do My Ears Hurt After Running?

Most of the time, the reason your ears hurt after running or exercising can easily be fixed or prevented.

After reading these, you might immediately know which one applies to you, or you may need to do some experimenting.

Either way, let’s look at the various reasons you might have ear pain after running, and some ways to fix it.

1. Your Earbuds Don’t Fit Properly

This is a much more common reason for sore ears than you think!

Even though most running earbuds are created with quality sound and comfort in mind, you may not initially realize that they aren’t the best fit when you’re wearing them.

To keep your earbuds from falling out when you’re bouncing during a run, you’ll likely push them harder into your ears to ensure they stay put. This might help them to stay where they should be, but it could also be putting a lot of stress on the actual structure of your ear.

If your ear aches inside but not deep inside the ear canal, and you usually run with in-ear earbuds, this could be the problem. If you’re not sure, try running for a few days without them and see if it helps.

If your ears feel better, this could be the main reason for your pain. On the other hand, if the pain continues, you’ll need to consider other reasons.

The Solution:

If earbuds are causing the pain, experiment with a few different types of earphones. Bone conduction earphones are the best option. They’re more expensive than most others but well worth it. They’re also excellent for sore ears because they don’t go into your ears!

You might also want to try smaller earbuds. You probably won’t need to push these so far into your ears to get them to stay put, which could help.

Otherwise, you may need to try a traditional pair of over-the-ear phones, although they may be less comfortable.

2. Your Neck and Jaw Muscles Are Tight

You may not realize how tight your upper body and facial muscles are! When you run, the bounce may affect your facial muscles, which can cause some runners to tense them up, especially in the jaw.

Because your jaw is so close to your ears, this tightness can radiate into the ears, causing “referred pain,” which seems like ear pain but comes from the jaw. Tooth pain can sometimes accompany ear pain in this case.

The Solution:

Next time you run, try to pay attention to whether or not you’re holding tension in your face, jaw, and neck. If you find yourself clenching your teeth or tightening your jaw muscles, make a conscious effort to relax!

It can be difficult to relax the muscles in your face – if you’re in the habit, you might not even realize you’re doing it!

The good news is that while you should be attempting to relax your muscles during a run, there are other ways to help. It’s a good idea to go for regular massages of the upper shoulders, neck, and head muscles. Make sure you’re going to a professional—a sports masseur is best.

It could also be a good plan to see a chiropractor. If anything is locked or out of place, they can help to release it, which will make a big difference to the relaxation of your muscles. You may need to do a monthly appointment in order to keep yourself relaxed.

3. Your Ears Are Cold

Yes, this can cause ear pain!

The cold usually affects the extremities, the parts of the body that are the furthest away from your heart and need the most work for warm blood to get there. In cold weather, the circulation in your ears may suffer, leading to pain and tingling sensations.

You may also get inner ear pain if your ears become cold. Some people are more prone to this, so if you only struggle with sore ears in cold weather, this could be the issue.

The Solution:

Get yourself a great pair of earmuffs or ear warmers! You may find that this eliminates your pain immediately just by keeping your ears warm when you’re out on the road or the trail.

Alternatively, you can try to cover your ears with a beanie or a headband. These may be more comfortable than earmuffs, especially if you already wear them in the cold.

4. You’re Running In Wind

Running in windy weather can have a negative impact on your ears. It makes them cold, leading to circulation problems, and the wind can irritate your inner ears and lead to pain, possibly even an ear infection.

The one advantage of running with earbuds in your ears is that they protect your inner ears from the wind! So this is more likely to happen to you if you don’t wear earbuds while running.

The Solution:

Like running in the cold, you should cover your ears while running in the wind.

Find a comfortable pair of earmuffs, use a headband to cover up against the wind, or start using earphones if you don’t already.

5. You’re Suffering From GERD

This one’s pretty unusual, and you probably wouldn’t ever consider it! But yes, GERD—gastroesophageal reflux disease—can also present with ear pain and may flare up after a run or exercise session.

When you run, the bouncing motion can cause stomach acid to flow back up the esophagus, causing heartburn. This can sometimes affect the larynx, which is in the throat. But the larynx is close to the inner ear, and may lead to ear pain and balance issues.

So if you’ve already been diagnosed with GERD or you suspect you have it, this could be the cause of your ear pain.

The Solution:

It’s a good idea to ask your doctor’s advice on how to handle this when running. You should also avoid acidic foods—tomato, garlic, citrus fruits, etc.—before and after you run.

6. You’ve Got an Ear Infection

Some people are more prone to developing ear infections than others. However, it can happen to anyone. An ear infection is often caused by bacteria or a virus entering the middle ear due to another illness, like the flu.

An ear infection may be to blame if you’ve had a cold or the flu recently, and your ear pain only starts after that. You might also be more susceptible to ear infections if you’re a smoker or have allergies.

The Solution:

Ear infections may go away on their own, but taking a day or two off your running routine is a good idea. If it hasn’t gotten better within three days or so, then it might be best to see a doctor.

If you don’t want to take time off, keep your ears well-protected with earmuffs or a headband. It might also be a good idea to avoid putting earbuds into your ears at this time, as they can worsen the pain.

7. Your Music Is Too Loud

If you run in a noisy or busy area, you’re probably playing your music a little louder than is safe for your ears. Or maybe you just like loud music.

The Solution:

If you can turn your music down and still hear it well, that’s the obvious solution!

Alternatively, we highly recommend bone-conduction earphones once again. You can play your music softer through these headphones, so it could save your ears some pain.

When Should I Worry About Sore Ears After Exercise?

If none of the above scenarios solve the issue, and you still can’t find a legitimate reason for having sore ears after a run or an exercise session, it might be a good idea to go for a checkup to ensure there’s no underlying reason for your ear pain.

If the pain is accompanied by pressure on the eardrums, a fever, or any other symptoms in the head or face, then it’s best not to run and to seek medical attention.

Use your discretion! Rather miss a few runs and get to the bottom of it, than continue running through the pain and inadvertently do worse damage to your ears.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.