Pilot Findings of Brain Displacements and Deformations during Roller Coaster Rides

Calvin Kuo, Lyndia C. Wu, Patrick P. Ye, Kaveh Laksari, David B. Camarillo, Ellen Kuhl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


With 300,000,000 riders annually, roller coasters are a popular recreational activity. Although the number of roller coaster injuries is relatively low, the precise effect of roller coaster rides on our brains remains unknown. Here we present the quantitative characterization of brain displacements and deformations during roller coaster rides. For two healthy adult male subjects, we recorded head accelerations during three representative rides, and, for comparison, during running and soccer headers. From the recordings, we simulated brain displacements and deformations using rigid body dynamics and finite element analyses. Our findings show that despite having lower linear accelerations than sports head impacts, roller coasters may lead to brain displacements and strains comparable to mild soccer headers. The peak change in angular velocity on the rides was 9.9 rad/sec, which was higher than the 5.6 rad/sec in soccer headers with ball velocities reaching 7 m/sec. Maximum brain surface displacements of 4.0 mm and maximum principal strains of 7.6% were higher than in running and similar to soccer headers, but below the reported average concussion strain. Brain strain rates during roller coaster rides were similar to those in running, and lower than those in soccer headers. Strikingly, on the same ride and at a similar position, the two subjects experienced significantly different head kinematics and brain deformation. These results indicate that head motion and brain deformation during roller coaster rides are highly sensitive to individual subjects. Although our study suggests that roller coaster rides do not present an immediate risk of acute brain injury, their long-term effects require further longitudinal study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3198-3205
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 15 2017


  • brain modeling
  • head kinematics
  • traumatic brain injury
  • wearable sensors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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