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.


  1. S. K. Wishy

    August 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    This explains why I had a probblem with headaches back when I had dreadlocks last year… I liked the look but the smell was too much for my girlfriend’s sensitive nose.

    • Dr. M

      August 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm

      Glad to be of service. Thanks for commenting!

  2. phrag

    August 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Khal Drogo with neck problems? Unlikely! Lets hope his performance in Conan isn’t somehow less than in Game of Thrones! I’m sure ladies will still take him despite his smelly dreads and whiplash.

  3. TL

    August 20, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Two weeks ago, I cut off my dreadlocks because they were driving my crazy. Aside from the irritation and rashes on my neck and shoulders, I had migraines, neck pain, shoulder pain, eye pain, and too much pain to continue this hairstyle. I had been growing them for 8 years, and they were down past my waist. I had become very annoyed with them as they grew longer. Whenever I sat in a chair, or layed down, I had to put my dreds in a pony tail which made my headaches worst. I shampooed my hair in the shower, and that was a chore as well. When my hair was wet, it pulled my neck backwards. My hair was thinning on the top as well.

    Twisting each one after washing was a job, and too much after a while. I took a pair of scissors, with the help of my 10-year old grand daughter, and just cut them all off. Surprisingly, I ended up with a short afro that doesn’t look bad at all. Eventually I will get my hair evenly cut, but you can’t really tell it is uneven because my hair curls up when wet.

    Never again! Dreds are literally a pain in the neck for sure. Thanks for bringing this to the attention of others. It is important.


    • Dr. M

      August 21, 2011 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks for your comment. It just goes to show you that fashion fads can have medical consequences.

      • Natural

        September 8, 2011 at 8:53 pm

        Locs are not a fashion fad for some people.
        And as far as weight, some people have heavier hair than others. Those with straight hair and no real curl pattern or real texture (Caucasians) will have heavy locs because they add more product to already heavy hair.
        People that have tight curl patterns (afros, tight curls, wavy hair) will carry a lighter load. And because those with curl patterns will lock without product and extra techniques such as backcombing, not washing, or adding products, they will have lighter, more airy and cleaner locs.

        • kyru

          December 12, 2014 at 8:46 am

          the person above has had heavy dreads and i believe they have Afro textured hair, i think the amount of people that use products and methods in locs is overwhelmingly African american, Asian people have the same if not in general much less textured hair then Caucasian people but you specifically mention Caucasians, it is correct that in the case in free form locs, straighter hair will be more dense than free form Afro locs but due to the popular and common method of twisting with gel on Afro hair, this causes the hair to be compacted and become heavy, in general this method is used by people of African decent meaning many black people have heavy dreads too, posibly more than other races.

  4. Veronica Ciandre

    March 6, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    As a person who spent 20 years starting locks on various types of hair, I can tell you that locks on curry kinky hair are almost weightless compared to on straight hair. One main difference, curly kinky hair pretty much defies gravity, it does not hang down unless it is weighed down with the use of product, or by actually straightening it, and still it weights almost nothing. So you don’t get the pain in the neck as often as if your locks are in straight or caucasian hair. Afro hair does not always require a lot of product, as it curls around it self more easily. With straight hair, there is often as much back combing required as there is gel and other products to make it stick, with makes the locks more densely compact than with afro hair, which is compacted by the curl more so than back combing, and the reason it weights less.

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