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Style with a smile: How to tackle ponytail headaches
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Style with a smile: How to tackle ponytail headaches

Tightly pulled hairstyles can cause inflammation of the nerve endings surrounding the hair follicles, triggering headaches in some people
Ponytail headaches can result from tightly pulled hairstyles that cause inflammation of the nerve endings surrounding the hair follicles
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health

Strong scents, loud sounds or a change in weather are some of the common factors known to induce headaches. The specific triggers vary from person to person. One such trigger, experienced particularly by women, is associated with hairstyles. Though they are colloquially referred to as ponytail headaches, the trigger is not limited to that hairstyle alone, say experts. Any hairstyle where the hair is tightly pulled could lead to headaches.

Hairstyles that trigger headaches

Bangalore-based freelance hair and makeup artist Angela Attavar says that a tight, high ponytail is among the most common hairstyles that give people headaches. “Everyone wants a sleek and tight ponytail, which has been the trend for a while,” says Attavar. “At the same time, it causes a lot of tension on the scalp. Initially, you do not feel much pain when you tie your hair. But once you untie it and release the tension, you start to feel the pain. It can make your scalp feel tender and sore.”

Other hairstyles involving tight braids (like cornrows) can also trigger a headache. “Basically, any hairstyle that’s high and tight, or anything that tugs or stays stuck to the scalp, tends to cause a headache,” she adds.

Why do certain hairstyles trigger headaches?

Dr Shubha Subramanian, neurologist, Kauvery Hospital, Vadapalani, Chennai, explains the physiological reasons behind headaches triggered by certain hairdos. “Hair does not have any nerve endings,” she says. “However, hair follicles are located beneath the skin, where the scalp meets the hair. These follicles have a rich supply of nerve endings surrounding them, which become inflamed when the hair is pulled back tightly. That is when you get a headache. It is more like an external compression headache.”

Another condition attributed to ponytail headaches is cutaneous allodynia. “The condition is characterized by a painful response to non-painful stimuli, such as light touch or pressure,” says Dr Subramanian. “Higher sensitivity to touch can often be related to certain neurological conditions, especially migraines. It’s just the traction that’s caused when trying on hairstyles, but people experience it as pain.”

Ponytail headaches: What dictates their severity?

The intensity of the headache depends on how much traction the hair roots have endured and the duration of the hairstyle. “The longer you wear the hairstyle, the more susceptible you are to headaches,” says Attavar. “If you are wearing a tight hairstyle for half an hour, the pain might subside pretty quickly. On the contrary, if you are wearing the hairstyle for a prolonged period, the pain is going to be a lot worse and long-lasting.”

Remedies for ponytail headaches

Experts advise those who experience ponytail headaches to avoid tight hairstyles. “Opting for loose hairstyles is ideal; try loose braids if you wish to braid your hair. Another option is to wear low ponytails secured with loose bands that are not too tight against your scalp. Using hair clutches, which do not put as much strain on the scalp, is also an ideal option,” says Dr Subramanian.

Takeaways

  • The nerve endings surrounding the hair follicles become inflamed when attempting certain hairstyles, triggering headaches in some people.
  • Colloquially referred to as ponytail headaches, they can result from high ponytails, tight braids or any other hairdo that is high, tight or stays stuck to the scalp.
  • The severity of the headache depends on the amount of traction on the hair roots and the duration of the hairstyle.
  • Experts suggest that those experiencing ponytail headaches should avoid tight hairstyles.

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