Science

Head-bangers: quick licks crick necks

Thursday, 18 December, 2008
Dan Gaffney

Rock fans who risk head and neck injuries when "head-banging" in time to heavy-metal music could reduce harm by wearing a protective brace or switching to slower tempo easy-listening artists, such as Enya and Celine Dion, says new research in The British Medical Journal.

Head-banging originates from a 1969 Led Zeppelin concert in Boston, USA, when the front row audience members were seen banging their heads on the stage in time to the music. Today, the term refers to violent and rhythmic head movements synchronous with music, usually heavy-metal rock.

Little formal injury research has been done on the worldwide phenomenon, even though case reports indicate inherent risks, especially in head and neck injury. Although only a few unique cases are documented, neurosurgical specialists question whether the incidence is much higher, because the symptoms are clinically silent or cause only mild headache that resolves spontaneously.

The study revealed that an average head-banging song with a tempo of 146 beats a minute will likely cause mild head injury when the head's range of motion is greater than 75 degrees. At higher tempos and greater ranges of motion there is an exponential rise in the risk of neck injury (see graph). Many hard-rock and heavy-metal bands play fast-tempo songs, such as Spinal Tap's Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight and Kickstart My Heart by glam metal band Mötley Crüe, both at about 180 beats a minute.

It also noted that legendary head-bangers Wayne and Garth (in the film Wayne's World), head-bang to -Bohemian Rhapsody at 138 beats a minute with a range of movement of about 45 degrees. Due to the low range of movement, no injuries were predicted by either the head or neck injury criteria, although the other characters in the back seat of the car demonstrated a noticeably larger range of motion and might be at risk.

Injuries might be minimised if head-bangers at rock concerts were advised to lessen their range of head and neck motion and head-banging to every second beat, according to research author, injury expert Andrew McIntosh of the University of New South Wales.

"Possible preventive interventions include limiting the range of neck motion through a formal training program delivered before a concert, switching to easy-listening music like Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Enya- and Richard Clayderman, and using personal protective equipment, such as neck braces, to limit range of motion," says McIntosh, who co-authored the paper with Declan Patton.

Dr McIntosh identified the "up-down" head banging style as the most common (others included the circular swing, the full body, or the side-to-side) by observing young people at hard-rock and heavy-metal concerts featuring bands such as Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, The Hell City Glamours, L.A. Guns, Ozzy Osbourne, Winger, Ratt, Whitesnake, and W.A.S.P.

Exposure to head-banging is enormous - hard rock and heavy metal account for 30 percent of US record sales - so there may be opportunities to prevent injuries on a large scale by working within the rock music industry, according to Dr McIntosh. He has suggested "encouraging bands such as AC/DC to play songs like Moon River as a substitute for Highway to Hell; public awareness campaigns with influential and youth-focused musicians, such as Sir Cliff Richard and labelling of music packaging with anti-head banging warnings, like the strategies used with cigarettes."

Media contacts
Dr Andrew McIntosh, 0400 403 678
Dan Gaffney, UNSW media, 0411 156 015