Thursday, January 07, 2010

Roller Coasters Can Be Such A Headache

Dodonpa roller coaster, 170 feet tall, 106.9 mph. Located in Fuji-Q Highland amusement park in Japan.

In case you didn't know, there's a reasonably sized literature on roller coaster headaches. An especially interesting case was reported by Fukutake and colleagues (2000) in Japan. A 24 year old woman frequently visited amusement parks, including Fuji-Q Highland -- home to 3 monster roller coasters (she rode each of them twice):
One of these, the Fujiyama, is the world’s highest roller coaster at 259 feet. It has a drop of 230 feet at an angle of 65° and has the world’s fastest speed of 81 mph. There was no direct trauma to her head or loss of consciousness during the rides.
The headache started when she was on her way home from the park. She went to the hospital when it persisted for 4 days.
The woman’s headache was constant, mainly suboccipital, worse in the evening, and partially relieved by rest. ... Neurologic examination results were normal. Her pupils were equal and reactive to light, and there was no papilledema or retinal hemorrhages. Routine laboratory tests for blood and urine all were normal. Tension-type headache was initially diagnosed, and muscle relaxants were prescribed for 4 weeks with some benefit; the headaches fluctuated but were unrelieved.

Two months later, MRI of the head ruled out an organic problem and showed bilateral subdural hematomas with neomembranes.

Figure (Fukutake et al., 2000). T1-weighted MRI of the head showing bilateral subdural hematomas with neomembranes.

The neurosurgeons removed the hematomas, and the patient's headaches resolved. She was completely symptom free 8 weeks later. The article doesn't mention whether she resumed riding roller coasters, however.

But Are Pillow Fights More Dangerous Than Roller Coasters?

Another paper compared head motions that occurred in 4 participants when they rode 3 different roller coasters at Six Flags, drove bumper cars, and had a pillow fight (Pfister et al., 2009). What are the implications for brain injury? they asked.
The 18 mph (8.1 m/s) car crash simulation resulted in the highest measurements of linear acceleration, linear velocity, and rotational velocity of the head. The highest level of rotational acceleration was measured during the pillow fight. Interestingly, the pillow fight generated peak head accelerations and velocities greater than the 3 roller coaster rides. Despite the difference in the 3 roller coaster rides (ie, speed, turns, loops), they lead to similar head motions. It is important to note that variations in head motions were small between the roller coaster rides, pillow fight and 5 mph (2.2 m/s) car bumper hit.
Mostly dismissive of the case study literature on roller coaster headaches, these authors ended on a pro-roller coaster note:
Our current empirical data supports 2 scientific panels' opinions as well as previous results from a computational model. Specifically, head motions during roller coaster riding fall within the range of normal activities and are far below thresholds of TBI in normal individuals.


Fukutake T, Mine S, Yamakami I, Yamaura A, & Hattori T (2000). Roller coaster headache and subdural hematoma. Neurology, 54 (1) PMID: 10636168

Pfister, B., Chickola, L., & Smith, D. (2009). Head Motions While Riding Roller Coasters The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 30 (4), 339-345 DOI: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e318187e0c9

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At January 13, 2010 11:06 AM, Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

Yuk, that MRI is horrible. Nearly as bad as the needles boy x-ray.

At January 13, 2010 1:14 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Needles boy reminds me of this gruesome x-ray of self-embedding disorder, and Albert Fish (who was both sadistic and masochistic).

At July 15, 2013 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see more of that pillow fight.


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