Why do my ears hurt after running?

Have you ever experienced ear pain after running? It can be concerning, annoying, and very painful! If this is a common occurrence, you might dread your next run or avoid it entirely, making it hard to maintain a fitness routine.

Instead of giving up on your fitness goals or missing out on incredible Vingo running routes, identifying the cause of your ear pain may help you prevent it entirely.

Why do my ears hurt after running?

A male runner hunched over with a sweaty face.

There are several possible causes of ear pain after running. External factors like weather, altitude, and earbud fit might be the culprit. Or an underlying condition like reflux or allergies could be responsible for the pain. Let’s explore all the possibilities before diving into some preventative tips.

Top reasons for ear pain after running

Cold weather

A woman dressed up while running in winter.

One of the most common reasons runners have ear pain after running is due to cold weather. When you run outdoors in the cold, the blood vessels in your ears constrict, causing a buildup of pressure in your ears and triggering ear pain.

Altitude changes

A male runner on the mountains with a change in altitude.

Running at a higher altitude may impact your performance and physical response to exercise. The pressure changes can cause ear pain, which may feel more prominent after running, especially if you’re in a cooler climate and have the cold air working against you.1

Poorly fitting earbuds or loud music

A male runner about to put in his wireless headphones before his workout.

Earbuds that don’t fit securely can move around too much and hurt your ears after a run. In addition, turning up your music to the max may drown out the sounds of your treadmill or excess noise outdoors while you run, but it can also result in ear pain.2

Jaw tension

An older man running while smiling.

If you tend to clench your jaw or grind your teeth while running, doing so could cause you to overwork the nerve that runs from your jaw to your eardrum and make your ears hurt as a result.3 Excess stress or anxiety can sometimes also cause jaw pain and tension, extending to your teeth, neck, and ears. 

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

Two runners bending over after their run in the woods.

Many people who have exercise-induced GERD experience ear pain after running. Reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle, which typically functions like a door between the stomach and esophagus, opens, letting stomach acid travel up and into your esophagus. High-intensity exercises like running can increase abdominal pressure and cause symptoms like heartburn, sore throat, and ear pain.4


A female runner on the road.

A cold, allergies, or ear infection can cause ear pain, and running may worsen any pain. If you have ear pain after running along with other symptoms like headache, fever, hearing loss, or generally feeling unwell, an underlying illness is most likely the cause.5

How do I stop my ears from hurting when I workout?

A male runner on a track field.

Now that you know the main causes of ear pain while running, the following preventative tips may help you get some relief:

  • Protect your ears from cold weather. If you plan to run outdoors in the winter or travel to a colder climate and run there, invest in a good pair of earmuffs or a thick beanie to protect your ears from the cold temperatures.
  • Take it slow. Don’t jump right into your normal running routine when traveling to higher altitudes. Give your body a day or two to adjust to the higher altitude and restart your running routine at a lower intensity, gradually increasing it over time.
  • Be mindful while running. You may not even notice you’re clenching your jaw while you run. Next time you head out for a run, pay close attention to how you’re using your facial muscles and try your best to maintain a loose and relaxed jaw. Also, address other things that make you feel stressed and anxious, which could contribute to your jaw tension and ear pain after running.
  • Invest in a solid pair of earbuds. Ensure they fit correctly and avoid turning your music to the maximum volume. Try to find earbuds with active noise cancellation features so you don’t have to turn your music up so loud to block out other noises.
  • Exercise regularly, even if you have GERD. Even though GERD can contribute to ear pain after running, research indicates regular exercise can also help reduce reflux symptoms by promoting weight loss and reducing your overall BMI.6 Just make sure to choose lower-intensity workouts like cycling or yoga to reduce or avoid uncomfortable reflux symptoms. 

When to see a doctor

A man seeing an ear doctor holding his face.

If you’re sick, experiencing other symptoms with your ear pain, or have consistent ear pain after running that doesn’t seem to go away, we highly recommend seeing a doctor. If you have an underlying condition that’s making the ear pain worse, your doctor may be able to identify and treat it so you can feel better and continue running pain-free.

Key Takeaways:

Having numb feet when running is common among runners. Several straightforward solutions can help you find relief, but if nothing seems to work, it’s probably time to see your doctor and rule out any medical conditions.

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  1. Moore, K. (2019, March 8). Ear Barotrauma. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/ear-barotrauma 
  2. Pienkowski, M. (2021). Loud Music and Leisure Noise Is a Common Cause of Chronic Hearing Loss, Tinnitus and Hyperacusis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(8), 4236. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18084236 
  3. Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.). Jaw Pain. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24447-jaw-pain 
  4. Sassi, K., MD. (2018, June 26). Exercise-Induced GERD: What to Do About It. EverydayHealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/gerd/best-exercises-to-beat-heartburn.aspx 
  5. Earache. (n.d.). NHS Inform. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/ears-nose-and-throat/earache 
  6. Park, S. K., Lee, T. R., Yang, H. J., Park, J., Sohn, C., Ryu, S., & Park, D. (2017). Weight loss and waist reduction is associated with improvement in gastroesophageal disease reflux symptoms: A longitudinal study of 15 295 subjects undergoing health checkups. Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 29(5), e13009. https://doi.org/10.1111/nmo.13009 

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