“Cracking hair” is a technique that people are using to try to relieve headache pain and ease tension. But does it work? With a lack of scientific basis or clinical evidence, the short answer is: Probably not. So why are people doing it? We spoke with an expert to find out what’s behind the hair cracking trend.What is hair cracking?
Pops and crackles coming from your scalp might sound like the opposite of what you want to hear when you’ve got a headache. Whether you have a migraine or a tension-type headache, the thought of sensory stimuli at the site of your pain might be the last thing you want to try.
And yet, cracking your hair, otherwise known as “popping your scalp,” is a viral social media trend where thousands of people are doing just that.
Hair cracking involves grasping a few strands of your hair close to your scalp. Next, you’d wrap the hair around your fingers, and pull the hair quickly taut and away from your head. (You might make this hair-pulling motion yourself, or you might enlist the help of a friend.)
If you’ve applied the right amount of pressure, you may hear a popping sound from your scalp.What is hair cracking supposed to do?
Dr. Jan Brandes is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Neurology at Vanderbilt University, as well as a board member for the National Headache Foundation. Brandes had some insight into why hair cracking might appeal to someone with a migraine or a headache.
“Many times when patients have intense migraines, they pull their hair to create another point of discomfort,” says Brandes.
In other words, when your hair snaps back or “cracks,” you experience a distraction from the pain of your headache.
This external pain may even make you feel, for a moment, like your headache has subsided, if only because your brain is receiving a different pain signal that overpowers the pain of your headache.
Brandes says that sometimes people with headaches seek out a cold compress, heating pad, or even ask someone else to apply pressure to the area where their head throbs.
Applying external pressure can be comforting for people with certain types of headaches. The impulse to grab and pull hair might come from a similar urge.Does hair cracking actually help ease headaches?
Hair cracking, hair pulling, and scalp popping do not help to relieve migraines or headaches.
“I think it would be more likely to cause problems,” says Brandes.
There are also no clinical trials or medical literature to suggest that hair cracking or pulling could be an effective method for getting headache relief.What are the potential downsides of cracking hair?
In addition to being ineffective, hair cracking and scalp popping can cause uncomfortable or even dangerous side effects.
“I think it’s a really bad idea. You could pull out hair. You might create folliculitis, or even tear your scalp,” says Brandes.
Side effects of cracking your hair may include:
- hair breakage, hair damage, or hair loss
- inflammation or redness of your scalp
- skin tearing, which can lead to an infection
While cracking and popping might not work to relieve headaches, there are other remedies you can try to get relief:
- Try home remedies, such as magnesium supplements or a certain types of herbal teas.
- Use an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as naproxen or ibuprofen.
- Drink plenty of water if you suspect you have a headache that could be related to dehydration.
- Get some rest while lying down, if at all possible.
- Avoid external stimuli like sound and touch.
If treating your headache on your own doesn’t help manage your pain, if you get frequent headaches, or if you suspect you are having migraine headaches, speak with a doctor about putting together a treatment plan, including possible lifestyle modifications to get relief.Bottom Line:
Unfortunately, hair cracking, hair pulling, or scalp popping are not effective or healthy ways to relieve headache pain.
While it may appeal to an impulse to apply pressure to an area that hurts, this viral trend doesn’t do anything to treat the underlying cause of a headache — in fact, it may have harmful side effects.
On the bright side, there are many other options to try for finding headache relief. Speak with a doctor or healthcare professional if you are having chronic headaches or suspect migraines.References:
Dr. Jan Lewis Brandes, phone interview. (February 10, 2021).
Photo Credit: Carolina Heza