Why Do My Ears Hurt After Running Or Exercise?

Natalie Cecconi
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Reasons Why Your Ears Might Hurt After Running

I've got some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that you're not alone. According to one study, up to 13% of athletes complain of ear pain after exercise.

The bad news is that, in most cases, exercise-related ear pain is temporary and self-limiting.

The pain can also be intermittent, wane off dramatically, or shift from one side of the head to the other. It might also become more or less intense depending on the physical activity.

Just like headaches, dizziness, and nausea, the causes of ear pain can be numerous. Sometimes, the pain is related to physical factors such as the air pressure changes incurred during exercise or even simple stiffness of the neck.

Atypical causes of ear pain are referred to as exercise ear pain, and include such things as problems related to the ear and other muscles in the head, referred pain from the mouth, and even anxiety.

And that's why the pain is subjective and might feel different to each person.

Incorrect Fitting Earbuds

If you wear Apple earbuds or other earbuds without a flexible rubber casing, they can cause pain or discomfort after prolonged running or exercise. This is because your ear canals are more sensitive when you are moving. The bones flex your movements, and the earbud casing is not malleable enough to bend and adjust with the movement.

If you are used to listening to loud music while running or working out, that too can cause disturbance in-ear canal resulting in ear pain. The result is that you get an uncomfortable feeling when the casing forces itself against the bones of your ear canal.

To alleviate this and other potential after-effects of earbuds, you can always go for earphones with a non-compressing wire design. Or you can get custom-made earbuds that fit the shape and size of your ear.
It requires your ear’s impression to be taken to a lab, where the mold is made and then shipped to you. One can use these molds to make custom-fit earbuds that are more comfortable and less likely to induce pain in your ears.

Cold Ears

The nerves in the ear canal aren’t insulated by the skin. They may have a strong, painful reaction to changing temperatures, especially to cold weather. Running in the cold and wind can aggravate your ear canal and earlobes, leading to ear pain. Plus, if you haven't covered your head correctly while outside in the cold, it can also lead to muscle cramps in your neck. Cramps in neck muscles can cause ear problems such as tinnitus or ringing ears.

Wearing a hat or covering your ear along with your head can save you from cold ear pain. Ear warmers also work wonders. If this pain is highly bothersome after getting home from your run, you can take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine.

Tight Jaws

Jaw tension or tightness could potentially lead to ear pain over time. During exercise, jaw tightness is likely to flare up because of dehydration since the joints aren't lubricating well. Dehydration can also cause a person to clench or grind their teeth from the stress on their body, making the jaw sore. Make sure you drink plenty of water any time you're working out and bring attention to your jaw and try intentionally to keep it relaxed throughout the run. Once the jaw muscles are relaxed, the ear pain linked with it also subsides.

Ear Infection

If you experience pain towards the deeper part of your ear, it is time to take it seriously. This is because several possible complications may arise from pain in the deeper part of your ear, one of which is an ear infection. Ear infection pain is certainly not limited to running, but the activity might exacerbate the pain, causing you to notice it more. Ear infections, seasonal allergies, sinus infections, and migraines can all lead to increased pain in the ears while you’re running. When left untreated, ear infection pain will usually progress and become more intense. If your pain continues to grow over time, consider getting checked for an ear infection.


After you run for a long time or work out in cold weather or at a high altitude, your ear might start to hurt. It's because of the reduction of blood flow to your ears. And, because your blood vessels are responsible for transporting oxygen through your bloodstream, if they become constricted, oxygen can accumulate in your inner ears and lead to excess pressure–and, therefore, pain. As the pressure increases, so do the pain, you experience.

This condition of blood vessel constriction is known as Vasoconstriction. It is one common cause of ear pain. Your body reacts to the stress of exercise by redirecting blood away from your extremities to your vital organs. That’s why your hands and feet might be feeling cold, and your ears and cheeks might be hurting after you work out.
It isn't much you can do to prevent Vasoconstriction if you’re running at a high altitude. Limit your salt intake as salt increases your blood volume and further worsens the problem.


One known cause of ear pain is a digestive problem known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD causes heartburn by pushing the contents of the stomach back up into the esophagus. In addition to coughing, sore throat, and chest pain. Approximately 40 percent of people with GERD experience ear pain during exercise due to disruption of the stomach’s contents. Avoid running or exercising with a full stomach to minimize the possibility of ear pain due to GERD.

Ear pain is typically caused by damage to the eardrum. This happens from suctioning when the Eustachian tube does not open, and the eardrum inflates with air. A Swimmer's ear is another common cause of ear pain during and after swimming.

Exercising or running a marathon can cause a runner’s ear because the eardrum is more easily damaged from increased air pressure because of high altitude or from the vibration of the eardrum at higher speeds or from the movement of the fluid inside the ear.

Treatment of runner’s ear includes long-term use of corticosteroid ear drops. The ear canal can also be drained through small incisions in the eardrum. Because eardrums often rupture spontaneously if left undrained, you must do this very carefully.

Ruptured Eardrum

Although ruptured eardrum after exercise is very rare, it does happen. More common causes of ruptured eardrums include sudden air pressure changes, loud sounds, severe head trauma, ear infection, or small objects shoved into the ear. If your eardrum has ruptured without your knowledge, exercising could worsen the condition. The medical term for it is the perforated tympanic membrane or tympanic perforation.

In most cases, people who have experienced a ruptured eardrum after exercise experienced an unusual change in their hearing or ear pain, dizziness, and a sensation of fullness.

If your ear is chronically inflamed, it is best to consult with an ear doctor immediately.

How to Prevent Ear Pain When Running?

Excessive exercise can cause non-specific ear pain, lasting from a few minutes up to several days. Ear pain after vigorous exercise is quite common.

Although this type of ear pain is temporary, it’s often very disruptive because sufferers feel it at the moment – as the pain prevents them from performing to their full potential.

You shouldn’t ignore the pain in your ears that you experience–prevention and treatment are critical. If you experience pain in your ears or ear lobes after or during your runs, hopefully, you’re able to identify with one of these potential causes. If none of these reasons seem like they could be true for you, it’s essential to check with your doctor to find out what might be going on.