• Breanne Kunstler

Is your hairstyle a pain in the neck?

Our member and physiotherapist, Shae Martello, explains how what you do to hold your hair up might be holding you back.


It’s the middle of the 2022 summer here in Australia and that means that family road trips are back for many of us. Road trips are great opportunities to get out and about; out of the office and into the surf for some fun physical activity in the sun!


It may have been quite some time since you’ve driven more than to the supermarket or work, so I’m here to remind you that your no-fuss ponytail could be contributing to the pain at the nape of your neck or the dull headache you feel towards the end of a long drive.


When considering neck pain, physios often consider the placement of things in front of us and how they affect our head and neck posture, such as the steering wheel or computer screen. However, little consideration is put into the things behind us, such as our ponytails!


Sitting in the car with your hair tied up at the back of your head pushes your head forward. Depending on the bulk of your hair, this could be up to a few inches. This ‘forward head posture’ is a significant contributor to neck pain and headaches in adults (Mahmoud et al., 2019)*. A quick check for best neck posture is ensuring your ears are back in line with your shoulders as close as comfortable.


On the “flip” side, front-heavy hairstyles with bangs can cause issues due to the action of flicking your head to brush the hair out of your face. This rapid rotation with extension can cause compression of the joints in your neck, potentially causing pain and stiffness. It may be subtle, but over time this repetitive motion will cause irritation, much like a repetitive strain injury of the wrist. For those dancers and performers out there, especially those wearing head gear as part of their performance, they need to be very aware of how their hair styles and costume impact the position and function of their neck.


How you wear your hair when you exercise can also be a contributor to neck pain. For example, if you don’t have your hair tied back when you are running, flicking it out of your face can create problems. On the contrary, having your hair in a style that pushes your head forward when using machines at the gym can be just as problematic as when sitting in the car for long trips. My tip is to ensure that the back of your head rests comfortably on the bench or seat of a weight machine to maintain neutral spinal alignment (feeling even pressure through both shoulder blades and the round point of the back of your head on the bench), such as when doing a bench press or seated shoulder press.


My take-away message is to consider how you style your hair and ensure it is “neck friendly”. Will it push your head forward? Will you have to keep flicking it out of your eyes? Perhaps it’s time for a trim or to reconsider your hairstyle based on the activity you are doing. A visit to the hairdressers may be just as helpful as a visit to the physio!


Shae Martello is a physiotherapist at Healthfocus Physiotherapy in Albury, NSW. Shae has an interest in researching how nutrition affects recovery in adjunct to physical activity, and also safe resistance training for adolescents to improve performance. Shae promotes physical activity to her clients by brainstorming how it can fit into their daily routine and helping them explore other options if they do not have an interest in conventional activities. Shae's personal favourite form of physical activity is resistance training and she attempts to educate all clients on the benefits, especially adolescents. Call (02) 6041 5744 to make a booking to see her today!


*Mahmoud, N. F., Hassan, K. A., Abdelmajeed, S. F., Moustafa, I. M., & Silva, A. G. (2019). The Relationship Between Forward Head Posture and Neck Pain: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med, 12(4), 562-577. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12178-019-09594-y


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