Ponytails and Neck Pain

Cut off ponytail
Photo: Makovsky Art/Shutterstock
Q: I am a male with long hair. I recently had it cut to about my chin all the way around but used to have it longer, and often ponytail my hair. However, I often notice neck and upper back pain if I wear the ponytail, particularly if I wear it all day.
My hair is naturally very thick and frizzy, so I straighten it before I ponytail it and then use hairspray to reduce frizz and tuck hair out of the ponytail behind my ears. I don't know if tightness is the problem, I only tighten the elastic band enough so it holds the hair (without slipping throughout the day) and I always loosen the elastic band down the ponytail a little to give a little ease on my hair.
Also, the hairspray is very strong hold and keeps the hair quite hard. I should also mention that pain is never immediate (usually at the end of the day) but relief from the pain is immediate when I undo the ponytail. Could you please suggest what can be causing the pain? Is it that I just need to get use to the heaviness of my hair?

A: First of all, this is one of those questions that skirts very close to an area requiring medical advice rather than esthetic advice. As a cosmetologist, I am NOT qualified to offer medical advice, even when it is believed to be related to a particular hairstyle. Any chronic or recurring pain that persists or increases with time should be reported to – and discussed with - a physician.
That being said, neck pain and headaches are common complaints for people with longer hair who wear ponytails. The reason for this is logical when you take the time to reason it out. Normally, when the hair is worn ‘loose’ and allowed to hang down on its own, the “pressure” is distributed evenly all over the scalp. This pressure increases with the length of the hair, but since the rate of growth is relatively low, the increase in weight is gradual and is usually not noticeable.
However, particularly with individuals who have hair that is thicker in diameter or more densely populated on the scalp, once the hair is long enough to hang down the back, it begins to concentrate the “pressure” it generates into a specific direction. Basically, when long hair hangs down the back, the weight of the hair pulls backward on the head and the neck muscles and muscles at the base of the skull must work harder to compensate.
Obviously, the weight isn’t significant on its own – a few ounces in most cases – but when borne over a period of hours (through the course of a day) the muscles in the neck get fatigued and begin to ache. This effect is often magnified by wearing a ponytail, since the ponytail directs the hair to a more concentrated point. Adjusting the ponytail can alleviate this briefly by shifting the focus of the pressure slightly, but the weight eventually resettles and the pain returns. This explains why your pain is relieved when the ponytail is removed.
In some cases, a ponytail isn’t necessary to cause the pain. Many women with very long, thick hair often complain of headaches and neck ache simply from the weight of their hair pulling on their neck.
If you are still experiencing this pain after your hair has been cut to chin length, I would strongly recommend consulting your doctor.
See also:
High ponytail and a headache
Ponytails and hair damage
Ponytails and hair loss
Ponytails and hairline recession