Does headbanging cause herniated discs? This is a question that is asked by many back and neck pain sufferers whose pain is blamed on an intervertebral pathology in the neck, upper back, middle back or even lower back. Herniated discs are some of the most common spinal abnormalities and have the potential to cause misery and neurological dysfunction by compressing spinal nerve roots, compressing the spinal cord or by enacting chemical nerve irritation when they rupture and leak interior proteins onto neighboring nerve tissue.
Headbanging is a popular activity embraced by fans of aggressive music styles, such as heavy metal, punk, hard rock and some types of electronic music, as well. However, some degree of headbanging has translated into mainstream music also and it is not unheard of to see the latest pop idol banging their head to whatever type of music that is currently in vogue. The point of our discussion is not on the music itself, but rather on the collateral trauma inflicted on the spine and surrounding soft tissues of the dorsal anatomy caused directly through headbanging.
This essay continues our unique coverage of the relationship between headbanging and the causes of herniated discs. We will examine how herniations can occur due to various forms of headbanging, as well as provide suggestions on how to avoid injury while still enjoying and immersing yourself in the music you love.
Headbanging can be defined as whipping one’s head up and down, side to side or around in a circle to music. The motion of headbanging is usually violent and fast. Imagine your head being snapped forward under great force, followed by the opposite motion of snapping the neck backwards under equal force. Perhaps you might want to imagine rotating the head aggressively to one side, then snapping it back the other way with abandon. Maybe you prefer the idea of spinning the neck in a circle, with the weight of the head gaining tremendous centrifugal force with each turn. Whichever way you like to visualize headbanging, just be sure to picture the act occurring over and over again, often for hours at a time.
When you depict headbanging scientifically, that is without any artistic context, the motions are virtually identical to those suffered during whiplash injuries for car accidents, serious falls and other acts of violence. The only major difference is that with most traumas, the act occurs and then ceases as quickly as it began. In essence, the injury takes place in the course of a split second or less. However, headbanging involves similar forces, but is perpetrated against the neck over and over again. It does not take a genius to imagine the degree of damage that can occur to the soft tissues of the spine, the spine itself and the surrounding supportive musculature. Herniated discs can certainly occur, but are only the tip of the symptomatic iceberg here.
Many young people headbang for years or even decades of their lives. They might partake in hours' worth of headbanging at concerts, clubs or in social settings. The overall sum of trauma to the neck is incalculable.
Some young people suffer a herniated disc immediately upon headbanging. Many will not even realize that the disc has bulged or ruptured, since most of these conditions are not inherently painful. However, some disc traumas might be both agonizing and more problematic than just the pain they create. Some disc issues can compress the spinal cord, potentially creating such dire expressions as sexual dysfunction, incontinence, paralysis and even death. Many headbangers are acclimated to dizziness and pain that often follows long sessions of their favorite pastime. Therefore, they might not seek treatment for their symptoms, even if the pain is severe. In certain circumstances, the longer treatment is delayed, the worse the effects might become.
Other people might headbang without serious acute injury or pain for a very long time. However, this does not mean that cumulative damage is not being done. The act itself is certainly creating the ideal circumstances for RSI in the soft tissues, as well as degeneration of the spinal joints and intervertebral tissues. It is not uncommon for these headbangers to grow into 30-somethings with multiple traumatic herniated discs that now may require drastic and often surgical intervention.
I am quite sure that my own headbanging played a formative role in causing every single disc in my neck to become herniated, as well as the first 4 in my upper back and potentially even the last 2 in my lower back. 12 herniations is quite a lot of damage to endure and is an extreme example of what might lie in wait in your future if you continue to damage your spine.
Remember that headbanging is not a gentle, controlled motion. By design, the activity seeks to push the head further and further past its comfortable range of motion, placing an ever-growing strain in the entire cervical spinal region. Herniated discs may occur when the annulus fibrosus breaks down and allows the nucleus pulposus to bulge or rupture through due to all this chronic stress. Remember that annulus degeneration is normal as people age, but many young headbangers experience accelerated deterioration and even pathological degeneration of the disc structure due to their involvement in this self-injuring activity.
Herniated discs are not the only possible consequence of headbanging. Many patients report other painful and potentially dangerous conditions existing as well:
RSI is a common consequence of headbanging. Repetitive strain can affect muscles, ligaments and ligaments that are continuously injured and not allowed to heal. The resulting scar tissue can cause chronic pain, functional loss and even neurological dysfunction due to mechanisms such as those demonstrated in thoracic outlet syndrome.
Acute muscular, tendon and ligamentous injuries might be unbearably painful and might even require surgical intervention if the tissue becomes detached from its anatomical anchors.
It is very rare, but vertebral fractures are certainly possible from headbanging. Typically affected regions of the spinal bones are the small projections around the rear spinal joints of each vertebra.
Headbanging causes general arthritic formation in the spinal joints and desiccation of the intervertebral discs. This latter factor also encourages herniations to occur.
Traumatic brain injury and stroke are two of the non-back-pain-related issues associated with headbanging. Both can prove fatal or can create life-long disability.
We know that young people love to headbang. It allows them to immerse themselves in the favorite music, blow off stress and find their place in a rigid social environment. Most never question why they bang their heads or what the consequences will be. However, as these young people get older, and they will, they begin to see the errors of their past mistakes.
We have been studying the effects of headbanging for over 15 years and have witnessed a whole generation of youths grow into pained adults. We have also interviewed many notable musicians on the subject and virtually all seem to suffer some from of problem/disability/pain due to their years spent headbanging. As the Editor in Chief of this website, and all the sites of The Cure Back Pan Network, I have a personal interest in the topic as a former heavy metal drummer and lifelong musician. I am sure that headbanging has played an important role in the degeneration of my cervical spine and the many sufferings I have endured due to various injuries.
If you must headbang, go easy. There is no reason to literally make yourself dizzy, give yourself a headache and possibly cause permanent damage to your brain and spine. You might feel young and invincible now, but trust those who know from first hand experience, this is not the truth of the rest of your life. Your choices now will come back to haunt you later. Treat yourself well and try not to injure yourself headbanging.
We have written several other articles on this topic, which can be found by searching headbanging on our site search. There are also many personal accounts from famous musical heroes who cite terrible damage to their bodies that have been definitively linked to their participation in headbanging. We encourage you to read and learn while there is still time to prevent unnecessary damage to your body.