Is head banging hazardous to my health?

Originally Published: November 11, 2011 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: November 25, 2011
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Dear Alice,

I am the front man for a heavy metal band that is steadily growing in popularity. During shows, the whole band head bangs, but I seem to go a little bit harder than everyone else. Every morning after a show, I wake up with stiffness, soreness, and slight swelling of my neck and upper shoulders. Lately, I have been thinking that maybe thrashing my head around as if it isn't connected to my body is a bad idea.

My question is this: Does head banging cause any permanent injury that I should be concerned with? If so, how could I head bang differently to lessen the injury?

Thank you very much,

Pain in the Neck.

Dear Pain in the Neck,

You can blame Led Zeppelin fans for your stiffness, soreness, and swelling. It's believed that head banging got its start in 1968 when Zeppelin fans started banging their heads on the stage in time with the music. Many people have reported similar symptoms as you have. Some report feeling confused and dazed after a concert, possibly symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury associated with head banging. Shouldn't music bring you pleasure, not pain?

Here's the scoop: While there has been little formal research on the long-term health effects of head banging, a number of case reports indicate that there are risks associated with this activity — most notably, neck and head injuries. And, yes, some of these injuries can cause long-term damage. If someone continues to head bang aggressively over the long-term, damage such as repetitive stress and strain injuries or whiplash can occur in the neck and shoulders. There have also been reports of brain aneurysms and hemorrhaging related to head banging, though these are rare. The former bassist of Metallica even left the band in 2001, citing physical damage as one of the reasons for his departure!

Keep in mind that there are a host of factors that could influence the way head banging affects you. For example, previous back, neck, or spinal cord injuries could be aggravated by head banging. The type of head banging you do (up-down, full body, etc.), the tempo at which you do it, and the angle can all have an impact on the severity of injuries you may or may not experience.

To counter some of the neck and shoulder pain and swelling, try to limit the range of neck motion while head banging. Songs with a slower tempo can also minimize pain from head banging. If you feel strongly that you need to continue head banging frequently during your shows, try every other beat instead of each beat individually, which could possibly decrease the overall strain on your upper body.

If you are a Columbia student, check out Stressbusters, Alice!'s trained student back and neck rub team. You can enjoy a free mini back and neck rub at various locations on campus. Go to the Stressbusters website for times and locations to get some neck and shoulder relief.

Alice