Jason Momoa’s Hair… a Real Pain in the Neck!

With today’s much anticipated release of “Conan the Barbarian,” all eyes are on star Jason Momoa’s… hair? The Hawaiian native, best known for his role as Ronan Dex on Stargate: Atlantis, recently chopped off his signature locks because he said they were causing him migraines and whiplash. Of all the reasons for headaches, hair is rarely identified as the culprit. There is, however, a medical explanation for the “pain in the brain”.
The hair itself, of course, is not alive; but the muscles in the scalp are. The connective tissue around the muscles have associated pain fibers which make the scalp, face and ears extra sensitive to stimuli. With repeated irritation, a tension headache can develop. It is likely that Momoa’s long dreadlocks were heavy, and constantly pulled on his scalp—eventually causing headaches. Other causes of tension headaches include: ponytails, headbands, tight-fitting hats, hair extensions, and even heavy earrings.
Mamoa first complained of pain while filming action scenes for Stargate: Atlantis. The problem became so severe that he had to cut them off in Season Five. The show’s producers were supportive, and even planned to film a scene where his character cuts off his hair in an episode entitled “Broken Ties.” They scrapped the idea last minute and decided to have him wear artificial dreadlock hair extensions. While wearing the dreadlocks only temporarily may have solved the headache problem, Momoa continued to experience problems with whiplash.

Whiplash is a non-medical term describing a range of injuries to the neck occurring when the head suddenly snaps backward (hyperextension) and then forward (hyperflexion)— like cracking a whip. These extreme motions push your neck muscles and ligaments beyond their normal range of motion causing injury to the cervical tissues in the neck. Whiplash injuries range from mild to severe and usually go away within three weeks, though it can become a debilitating chronic pain.

Symptoms can include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Headaches, most commonly at the base of the skull
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability

Treatment for whiplash may involve medications such as:

  • Pain medications
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Or, just get a simple haircut…which was Momoa’s choice. The question now is: how will it affect his career now that his trademark hairstyle is gone? Hollywood has a history of treating stars who opted for a change of hair unkindly. Remember Kerri Russell? Natalie Portman? Bon Jovi? Plus, did Stargate producers have the right to make Momoa wear dreadlocks or a wig at the expense of his health?

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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