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Why Do Ponytails Make my Head Hurt?

Why You Should Never Take a Pain Reliever For a Ponytail Headache

If your go-to style — like Ariana Grande — is the classic ponytail, it's possible that you've experienced a headache or two that were simply caused by wearing your hair up. Your gut instinct is likely to pop an Advil or Tylenol, then move on with your life. But according to, seeking comfort from an over-the-counter pain relief medication can actually make your headache worse.

That's because those who experience ponytail headaches are often prone to migraines. Dr. Denise E. Chou, neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center, explained that migraines often go undiagnosed, with about 18 percent of women suffering from the condition. If you deal with migraines, the nerves around your face and scalp are extremely sensitive.

"When you put your hair in a tight bun or ponytail, or a weave or extensions, that will pull the nerves in the scalp. That pulling of the nerves will activate the sensory nerves even more," Chou told "That can result in the headache itself, or it could be that the headache is beginning."

Chou added that the act of merely putting your hair up could cause cutaneous allodynia, the occurrence of pain triggered by a harmless stimulus. (Brushing or washing your hair could also cause this.) "Putting your hair up shouldn't be painful. But it can be perceived as painful during a migraine attack," she said.

As for why you shouldn't take medications like Advil or Aleve when you feel ponytail pain, these treatments could incite rebound headaches, also known as "medication overuse headaches."

"If you're using these acute over-the-counter medications to abort headaches 10 or more days a month, that can cause headaches to get worse by increasing the pain receptors," said Chou. The last thing migraine sufferers want to deal with is more pain!

Instead, Chou advises that you look to supplements like vitamin B2, magnesium, or butterbur to help "stabilize the hypersensitivity of the brain." (Be sure to work with your doctor to find the best pain management solution for you.) Or, you could just opt for looser hairstyles. While we love the miniature face lift that a ponytail provides, there's something to be said for the carefree (and pain-free!) ease of a messy topknot.

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