When you’re working outside, exercising, or just lounging around your house, there’s no hairstyle as simple and convenient as the classic high ponytail. It’s the perfect way to quickly get long hair out of the way so you can concentrate on other activities.
But sweeping your hair up into a tight elastic can put pressure on your scalp. Over time, this pressure can even give you a pretty painful headache.
Keep reading to find out more about this surprisingly common condition.
Even though there aren’t any nerves in your hair that would sense pain, there are extremely sensitive nerves underneath your hair follicles and in your scalp.
When a ponytail triggers a sensation of tightness in too many of those nerves at once, a headache can result. Ponytail headaches are a type of external compression headache, meaning they’re caused by stimulus that’s outside your head.
Ponytail headaches are technically a kind of allodynia. That’s when a normal sensation, like having your hair in a ponytail, causes pain.
The occipital nerves (at the back of your head) and trigeminal nerves (around your face) are the nerves often affected by compression from headwear, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you are getting a headache from your ponytail, the first method of action is to take your hair down. Massage your scalp gently in the area where you feel pain and take a moment to breathe deeply.
An external compression headache should go away within an hour of removing your ponytail.
If you frequently experience this kind of headache, you may need to reconsider your go-to hairstyle. Getting your hair out of the way with a braided hairstyle that ties at the end is an alternative you might consider.
Shorter hairstyles and bobby pins might also help you avoid ponytail headaches. Any option that keeps a hairband from coming into contact with your scalp directly would be less likely to cause pain.
When you do need to sport a ponytail for high-impact sports, aerobic exercise, or even just for convenience, keep your eye on the time.
Take your hair down every hour or so to give the nerves in your scalp a chance to recover from the constant feeling of being pulled. If you do this often enough, you may reduce the frequency of your ponytail headaches.
Getting a good night’s sleep can help ward off headaches too.
If your headache continues after taking your hair down and massaging your scalp gently, consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil), to treat the pain.
If the pain breaks through an OTC pain-reliever, it might not be related to your hairstyle at all.
Consider other causes and possible treatments for your headache if it doesn’t subside within three hours of taking your hair down.