The Effects on the Body of Riding Roller Coasters

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Engineers' attempts to design scarier roller coasters may be going too far.
Engineers' attempts to design scarier roller coasters may be going too far. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Roller coasters — white-knuckle, high-speed rides — are found at theme parks and other tourist attractions all over the world. A ride on a roller coaster is a high-velocity trip to dizzying heights, and while for many this means fun, the experience of a roller coaster places the human body in an unusual situation, and can have both physical and psychological effects.

Ear Damage

The impact of huge accelerations can, in some rare cases, take a toll on the human ear. The change in air pressure that arises when traveling on a roller coaster — or alternatively when scuba diving, for example — can cause ear barotrauma, resulting in pain in one or both ears, due to a swelling of the ear canal. As reported on the Medicine Net website, a man in Detroit was found to have suffered ear barotrauma after a trip on a 120 mile-per-hour roller coaster. The sheer pressure exerted on the man’s ear was sufficient to inflame the eardrum, but luckily not puncture it.

On the Heart

Riding a roller coaster can set in motion a speeding up of the heart. German researchers, reporting at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2005, declared that heart-rate increase occurred in many individuals riding roller coasters. Researchers believe this increased heart-rate is a result of psychological stress, triggered by fear of the roller-coaster, as well as the G-forces acting on riders. For most people, especially the young, an increased heart-rate is not a problem. However, an increased heart rate can lead to an irregular heartbeat. This can be dangerous for those who, knowingly or not, have cardiovascular issues and an increased chance of suffering a heart attack if they ride a roller coaster.

Whiplash Injuries

Roller coaster rides are full of quick, sudden movements, and these can result in spinal traumas, known as whiplash injuries, for some individuals.Typically, the effects of whiplash don’t show until a day or two after the individual leaves the ride, and consist of pain in the neck or back, as well as reduced mobility of the arms.

Psychological

The very idea of a roller coaster — something very fast at great height, and thus potentially frightening — provokes in many individuals a fight-or-flight scenario, where the person decides whether to continue and board the ride or avoid it. Even before the ride, this psychological reaction has a physical side-effect, causing people to sweat more than usual, as described by the Daily Mail newspaper website. Sweat pores continue to work more than usual during fast and scary roller coasters.

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