What Are the Common Causes of Mastoid Pain?

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  • Written By: Marco Sumayao
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2018
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Mastoid pain is most commonly caused by musculoskeletal pain in the surrounding areas; given the mastoid's location behind the ear, it is liable to experience referred pain from the neck and jaw. Physical impact to the area can also cause lingering pain, especially if the blow is enough to damage the bone. Direct causes of pain include mastoiditis and sensory neuralgia, particularly in the ear area.

Individuals usually experience pain in the mastoid process after overexertion of the jaw and neck muscles. In most cases, the discomfort tends to fade with a few minutes of rest. Lingering pain can be treated by directly addressing the source of the pain; neck cramps, for example, can be remedied by applying a hot compress and allowing the muscle to relax.

Although relatively rare because of the bone's location, it is not unheard of for mastoid pain to be caused by direct physical impact. This most commonly happens during falls or in physical confrontations. In most cases, the impact is not enough to damage the area of bone, and the pain fades with time. Fractures are possible, however, and will require immediate medical attention to prevent any further complications, as is the case with all cranium fractures. Breakage in the other portions of the temporal bone — the petrous, tympanic portion, and the squama temporalis — can result in referred pain throughout the general area.


Mastoiditis, an inflammation of the mastoid bone, is one of the more common medical causes of pain. The condition might be caused by middle-ear infections from a variety of bacteria, including Hemophilus influenzae, pneumococcus, and certain strains of Staphylococcus. Healthcare professionals recommend that patients get immediate treatment in order to prevent the infection from spreading further and, in most cases, antibiotic medication is enough to eliminate the bacteria. If the infection develops an abscess, the mastoid will have to be cleaned and drained; worst-case scenarios involve surgical removal of the bone and any other infected tissue.

Neuralgia in sensory nerves associated with the ear can also cause mastoid pain. The varying causes of neuralgia include nerve pressure, physical damage to the nerve or its surrounding area, and nerve cell degeneration. Nerve pressure is commonly caused by blood clots or swelling from the surrounding area; in rare cases, the pressure might be caused by a nearby tumor. The nerves can receive direct damage from powerful enough blows to or near the ear. The nerves can also degenerate in varying degrees, from demyelinization to congenital nerve deterioration.


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Post 7

@lanataylor78: My son has the same thing you're having. It's a big problem when he plays soccer in the heat. I cannot find anything on this cause.

I would love to connect and hear more about what you have experienced.

Post 6

My doctor recently told me that the bump behind my ear on my skull is a mastoid osteoma. Anyone here know more about this? Is surgery complicated? How long is the hospital stay? Anyone have any experience with complications or pain/symptoms?

I've been worried and nervous since I've known.

Post 5

I have had pain in my mastoid on and off for years. It comes on when I exercise and my body heats up, and if I have my hair tied up and don't allow it to 'cool' off before I have a cold shower and even if the temperature drops and I feel really cold.

I live in the Caribbean so I'm not used to really cold temperatures.

I have searched for explanations for the cause of this and have gotten no reason. I think it's sinus congestion but have not gotten any real answers. Does anyone know the cause for this?

Post 4

I can't find the medical records, but at the age of two years, I had both ears operated on, and relatives tell me I had mastoiditis.

My question is how serious was that for both ears to be done? My research shows that it's caused from a serious blow to the head.

Can a family doctor order my childhood records? Unfortunately, they would be in French, and no one speaks it here, not to mention when I call the hospital in Montreal, there's no one who is willing to speak English there, but I now want to pursue this at the age of 54 as complications have arisen.

If anybody knows what causes a two year old to have such a procedure, please reply.

Post 3

I've had pain on and off on my right mastoid for the past month. I'm also experiencing some swelling in my lymph nodes. My doctor said that the lymph nodes may swell and come down sometimes and that there is nothing to worry about. I've noticed that the pain in my mastoid acts up whenever my lymph node is swollen.

Do you think the swelling in my lymph node can cause mastoid pain?

They're not really close physically so I don't understand how this could be possible but I can't seem to pinpoint any other problem that could be causing pain in my mastoid.

Post 2

I'm glad to have found this article, it confirmed some of the things that I've experienced before.

I get pain in the mastoid area whenever I have dental work done. I had work done on two teeth on my bottom jaw this year and both my jaw and my mastoid area was in pain for about a week and a half. I assumed that the pain resonates to the connected bones and tissues and I'm glad to know I was right.

My daughter has describes pain in the same place whenever she has a cold. She has a very sensitive middle-ear and almost always develops an ear infection when she gets sick. That's why I always insists

on starting her on antibiotics right away to control the infection before it gets out of hand. I always assumed that the mastoid pain is from the infection since it disappears along with the infection.

I have always wondered if I should be taking mastoid pain more seriously. I'm relieved to know that these are some very common causes.

Post 1

My aunt had a swelling of the mastoid several years ago. It looked like there was a big lump there and she often complained about pain too. Doctors found out that she had something called mastoid osteoma, which is another name for a benign tumor on the mastoid bone. She had surgery soon after and the mastoid bone was removed.

I don't think that mastoid osteoma is very common. But I guess if pain is accompanied by a lump or swelling, it's best to have it checked out as soon as possible.

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