Outer ear pain related to coccyx pain

Jon Miles - jon@coccyx.org

Updated, 2006-01-29:

When my coccyx pain gets worse, my outer ears become sensitive, and feel uncomfortable when I lie on my side. I am talking about the ear-flap, the pinna or auricle in medical language, not inside the ear. Since posting this page, about 50 other people have told me that they have a similar pain, about half of the cases being associated with coccyx pain.

I spoke to my doctor about it once. He thought that it must really be my inner ear hurting. I don't believe that. It is sometimes just the tip of one ear that hurts, and only when I lie on it. Sometimes both ears become sensitive, and it spreads to the whole of my outer ears. But they don't hurt at all unless I am lying on them, and my inner ears have never hurt. This has happened more than a dozen times, starting a day or so after I have started a flare-up of coccyx pain. As the coccyx pain fades away, usually taking a week, the outer ear pain fades away too. It cannot be coincidence. Since I first posted this in 2002, my coccyx no longer hurts nearly as much, and I no longer get the outer ear pain.

Getting a pain in a different part of the body from where the cause occurs is called referred pain. The classic example is when problems with the gall bladder cause a pain in the tip of the right shoulder, in addition to abdominal pain. This odd symptom is used to distinguish gall bladder problems from other things that might cause abdominal pain. I suppose my ear pain is a similar thing.

No-one had any suggestion as to the cause, apart from one suggesting that all parts of the body are connected. One said "My doctor cannot explain it".

Here are some solutions that people have found for reducing the pain:

  1. Sleep with your head on the edge of the pillow, so that you can lie half on your face, without suffocating. That takes the pressure off the ear.
  2. Cut a hole in the middle of a pillow, and sew up the edges. You can lie with your ear over the hole.
  3. There are devices available to allow you to sleep lying face down - see Lying down to relieve coccyx pain (scroll down that page).
  4. Use a "Moshi" pillow (this is a small bean bag pillow with a stretchy outer fabric filled with micro syrofoam beads). Cover with a normal pillow case.
  5. One person found by accident that sleeping with a hearing aid in place avoided the pain. This person had ear moulds made by an audiologist, just for sleeping, and found them effective.

Addition from Anne, 2005-08-28:

I have had strong cartilage discomfort on waking for about a year now. Recently I began studying acupuncture and saw that according to this theory, this particular area of the ear is representative of the spine, in that problems of one will often manifest in the other. I myself have no back pain and just thought it was very interesting that you and many other noticed this association from first hand experience.

I also just wanted to let you know that acupuncture and herbs may be very helpful in this problem ( as is it for many health problems that stump western medicine). However I would add that it's very very important to go and see a well trained person with years of experience. For example, in the States to see someone with NNCOAM accreditation and outside of there I would probably stick to practitioners who are from well accredited schools or who are MD. in Chinese medicine from accredited Chinese/Vietnamese etc.. college's or hospitals. I stress this because, for example, in Canada, a person can practice with as little as a few weekend courses.

There are also advantages and disadvantages of seeing western versus eastern practitioners. Such as, an eastern practitioner may have much more training and practice in hospitals. However their English may be weak if they are newer to the English speaking country and they may give treatments that are a little less sensitive to western sensitivities. (Many Chinese people, for example, would be very used to the mild discomfort of needles and then get used to more stimulating sessions). I go to a great lady from China, who speaks very good English and is completely attuned to my western wussiness and my ears are now starting to be discomfort free 80% of the time.

Anne

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