Some roller coasters may put the body under a certain amount of stress and strain. With the movement and impact on the head and brain, riding them may result in headaches and migraine.

For some people, the headache might go away after taking some painkillers and getting some rest, but for others, it could be a sign of a concussion or head trauma.

The impact on the brain, as it moves around inside the skull during a roller coaster ride, can damage the nerve fibers and the blood vessels, which may even result in neurological issues such as strokes. However, this is rare, and not everyone is equally susceptible.

Each year, 300,000,000 people ride roller coasters, making them a popular recreational activity and relatively safe for most people. Nevertheless, roller coaster injuries can be serious.

This article explains why a person may experience a headache after riding a roller coaster and what damage can possibly occur. It will also detail which signs to look out for and what to do if a person experiences ongoing symptoms.

roller coasterShare on Pinterest
Roc Canals/Getty Images

Some researchers think that the acceleration and g-forces of roller coasters — the force of the push and pull movement — can cause stress and shearing forces so great that they can directly cause bleeding between the skull and the surface of the brain. Doctors refer to this condition as subdural hemorrhage.

As rollercoaster technology continues to advance, these researchers believe it could exceed the human body’s ability to cope with the associated acceleration and rotary forces. This could lead to an increase in injuries resulting from riding roller coasters.


Adolescents may be the group people most readily think about when considering who is most likely to ride roller coasters. Evidence shows that this group is also especially likely to have a concussion.

In 2017, a CDC survey showed that 2.5 million high school students had a concussion in a sport or recreational activity, and 1 million said they had two concussions in the previous year.

Learn more about the causes and treatments of concussions.


Researchers also recognize dizziness as a possible symptom of riding roller coasters. One retrospective 2022 study involved 31 adults with headaches or dizziness after roller coaster rides. The researchers found that 25 of the participants experienced new or worsening headaches.

Half of the people with chronic migraine already had the condition, but it had worsened. Additionally, five of the 25 were leaking cerebrospinal fluid, which is the fluid that flows around the brain and spinal cord.

Learn more about dizziness.

Head trauma

One 2017 study looked at how much the heads of two healthy adult males accelerated during three roller coaster rides compared to during running and soccer headers.

The researchers found that when riding roller coasters, the brain experiences similar surface displacements and local strains to those that occur due to mild sports impacts.

This study also suggested that the head movements and brain distortion that people experience when riding different roller coasters can be highly individual. Notably, the two subjects in the study experienced significantly different effects on their heads and brains.

Learn more about head trauma.

Motion sickness

A person can develop motion sickness when their brain receives conflicting signals from their spatial orientation senses. The main symptoms include:

  • cold sweats
  • pale face
  • nausea
  • possibly vomiting

One 2017 study looked into cybersickness, which is a type of motion sickness brought on by a virtual reality experience. The participants in this study took part in a virtual roller coaster ride.

The researchers found that the participants had less severe motion sickness when they traveled backward compared with traveling forwards on the virtual ride.

Learn more about motion sickness.

Roller coaster injuries are relatively uncommon, and researchers have not yet worked out exactly how roller coaster rides affect the brain.

The 2017 study mentioned above suggests that brain strain may explain why the nerve fibers in the brain, known as axons, tear when the brain has an injury as it moves around inside the skull bones.

Additionally, displacement of brain tissue due to injury could explain why the blood vessels become damaged.

If a person experiences any of the above signs of health issues after riding a roller coaster, they should monitor their symptoms and speak with a doctor if they persist.

Additionally, the U.K. brain injury charity Headway emphasizes seeking medical advice before a person with an existing brain injury rides a roller coaster.

To help relieve headaches, a person can try:

They can also aim to avoid:

  • drinking alcohol
  • skipping meals, even if they do not feel hungry
  • sleeping more than usual, as it can worsen the headache
  • straining their eyes for a long time — for instance, by looking at a screen

A person should contact a doctor if:

  • the headache keeps returning
  • pain relief does not help, and the headache worsens
  • they have throbbing pain at the front or side of the head, which could be a sign of migraine or a cluster headache
  • they experience nausea or vomiting and find light or noise painful

Learn more about how to treat headaches.

Roller coasters are a popular recreational activity, but there can be downsides for some people.

Some individuals experience headaches following roller coaster rides. These headaches could result from a subdural hematoma, which means bleeding between the skull and the brain.

Some people experience dizziness, motion sickness, head trauma, or concussion. The injury to the brain could result from the tearing of nerve fibers or the damage of blood vessels.

If a person’s headache does not go away with pain relief and keeps returning, they should make an appointment with a doctor.