Metal Health: Head Banging Hurts

Head Bangers at Risk for Neck, Head Injury, Possibly Stroke

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 17, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 17, 2008 - You don't have to butt your head against somebody else's noggin to get hurt on the dance floor or at a concert, but violent, rhythmic head banging can cause brain injuries, possibly even stroke.

That's the conclusion of two researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia, who warn that dancing involving "head banging" can be dangerous.

Head banging involves violent up-and-down, circular swinging, or side-to-side movements of the head and neck while dancing or listening to music, and the risk of injury increases as the music's tempo does, professor Andrew McIntosh and his research assistant Declan Patton report in the an online version of BMJ.

You can reduce your chance of injury by using protective equipment like neck braces, or simply moving your head to slower tempos, the researchers say.

Head Banging: Headaches, Dizziness

The researchers attended concerts by Motorhead, Ozzy Osbourne, and Skid Row, among others, identifying the up-and-down style of head banging as most common. Then they constructed a theoretical head banging model to study the relationships of various risks for brain injury related to music tempo and range of head and neck motion. They found an increasing risk of neck injury starting at a tempo of 130 beats per minute.

After compiling a list of 11 top head-banging songs from a focus group of musicians, the researchers found the average tempo to be 146 beats per minute. Head banging at that tempo may cause headaches and dizziness if the range of movement of the head and neck is greater than 75 degrees.

So how do you as a head banger prevent injury?

Try getting a band like AC/DC to play songs like Moon River instead of Highway to Hell, for one thing, say the researchers, who report that young people at heavy metal concerts often report feeling confused or dazed.

What's more, they suggest, it might be good for musicians to label CD packages with head banging warnings.

History of Head Banging

While not yet a serious problem, the researchers suggest it could be.

"Over the past five years, hard rock and heavy metal have contributed to about 30 percent of all record sales in the United States, and as of 2002, rock albums have outsold pop albums," the authors write.

Head banging is thought to have started at a 1968 Led Zeppelin concert and has evolved into a number of styles since, including the circular swing, the up-down and the side-to-side head.

The researchers found anecdotal reports of head-banging injuries, including stroke and mild traumatic brain injury, and identify the two most famous head bangers as the cartoon characters Beavis and Butt-Head.

"When head banging at a tempo of 164 beats per minute to 'I Wanna Be Sedated' the range of motion of Beavis' head and neck is about 45 degrees, not likely enough to cause injury," they write. But Butt-Head, who head bangs at 75 degrees, could be more at risk.

Which perhaps suggests it's safer to shake your booty than your head.

Show Sources


News release, BMJ.

McIntosh, A. and Patton, D. BMJ, December 2008; vol 337: p a2825.

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