Throwing your hair up is one of the easiest ways to create a put-together look. And with celebrities like Beyoncé perfecting the high and tight pony, it was inevitable that this particular look would become the style to emulate. But you’ve probably experienced a throbbing sensation from having your hair up all day. So can tight ponytails cause headaches? Science seems to think so but I decided the best way to find out was to see for myself.
According to the director of Michigan Medicine’s Headache and Neuropathic Pain Program, Dr. Wade Cooper, headaches that are caused by wearing your hair in a ponytail actually has a name in the medical community: ponytail headache syndrome. If it has a name, it must be a real thing, right?
But how is it possible for a specific hairstyle to cause physical pain? Well, it’s all down to nerves. Although your hair doesn’t have nerves, your scalp certainly does. “The hair shaft itself and the hair outside of your head is not pain-sensitive, but the scalp they are embedded in has a lot of pain-sensitive nerves around it,” Dr. Cooper told Michigan Health. “If a ponytail pulls back on the hair follicles, it can irritate a sensitive scalp.”
Ponytail headaches are what’s known as an external compression headache. This type of headache, reports Healthline, is “caused by stimulus outside your head” such as a hairband coming into prolonged contact with your scalp.
It’s an odd one because experts say that headaches caused by extra tight ponytails aren’t actually painful. The headache only occurs because the brain perceives it to be painful, resulting in a reaction known as cutaneous allodynia. The mind is a powerful thing, let me tell you.
I kept my hair up in a high and tight ponytail for a solid week to see if this whole headache thing is true or not. Not that I don’t believe the words of doctors but it’s sometimes hard to get your head around something unless you experience it yourself.
Getting my hair into this style was actually a bit of a challenge as I recently had a trim, making it difficult to keep all of my hair up. After a little perseverance (and with the help of some water), I managed to get it up as high and tight as it would go. It wasn’t quite up to Beyoncé standards but it’s the best I could do without expert help.
I went about my usual business and didn’t think about my potentially headache-inducing hairstyle for at least the first two days. Considering I’m prone to migraines, I was surprised that I didn’t get a headache within the first couple of hours.
It turns out that those who regularly suffer from headaches are more likely to experience pain from tight ponytails, neurologist Dr. Denise E. Chou told Elle. So why was I apparently different? I can’t answer that but what I can tell you is that I did get a pretty nasty headache on the fourth day so maybe she’s right.
It started out as a small throbbing sensation that I ignored for quite some time and transformed into blinding pain by the time evening hit. I had been keeping my hair up as I went to bed but was forced to relieve my scalp (and its nerves) for one night.
The next day, my head still felt a little fuzzy. But I persisted and threw my hair up once again. Over the course of the last few days, I had a constant pain in my head but it wasn’t intense enough to stop me working or leaving the house. So nowhere near as bad as a usual migraine.
But if I’m honest, I wouldn’t advise people to don a tight ponytail for a week straight. The chic look that you get isn’t really worth the inevitable tension it’s causing to your scalp and head.
If you do like this style so much that you’ll overlook any amount of pain, try taking your ponytail out for an hour every now and then. Any headache can easily be alleviated by an ibuprofen or two but long-term use of these tablets isn’t advised. So all in all, probably best for occasional stylings rather than an everyday look.