This past Tuesday night I fell in my new apartment, busted my chin on the hardwood floor and hurt my neck badly enough that it's still painful to move my head too far in any direction. Turns out my neck and spine are fine, and the doctor says I got away with a bit of torn muscle fiber. My mom worried that I was going to be paralyzed. My first thought when I woke up the next morning? "Shit, this is going to make headbanging really difficult."
Perhaps you've heard of the sad case of Evanescence guitarist Terry Balsamo, whose doctors believe that the 2006 stroke that left him partially paralyzed was brought on by excessive headbanging (check out this interview for the whole story). His was of course an extreme case, and the more cynical among us might conclude that he deserved it for making such terrible music. But the truth is that the neck is a complicated, elegant system of bone, muscle, blood vessels and other soft tissue, and while it's built for resilience and flexibility, the kind of physical strain brought on by improper headbanging can result in some nasty disorders, whiplash included. Check out this study, published late last year in the British Medical Journal, which concludes that the faster you bang, and the wider the angle of the banging, the more prone you are to neck injury. Fascinating.
If abstinence is not an option, the best you can do is follow the British Medical Journal's sage advice for minimizing injury:
- Decrease your range of head and neck motion. (For a bangable song of around 146 bpm, 75º or less is ideal)
- Headbang to slower tempo songs by replacing heavy metal with adult oriented rock
- Only head bang to every second beat
- Use personal protective equipment