You watched your friend hit the pavement after braking sharply to avoid a car pulling out in front of them. They’re a little banged up but didn’t hit their head. No need to worry about a concussion, right?
Snowboarding yesterday, you had a rough landing off a jump, fell back and hit your head. Got up and kept going. You felt fine until this morning…
Your teenager was rear-ended at a stop sign. Her neck is stiff, and her ears are ringing. What should you do?
If you’re wondering whether you or your loved one has a concussion in cases like these, the answer is probably yes. Here’s what you need to know about concussion recovery and seeking help to avoid long-term debility.
WHAT IS A CONCUSSION?
A concussion is a brain bruise; it’s considered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Impact to or sharp movement of the head causes the brain to bump against the bony skull, bounce off and hit the opposite side. Even though the brain is cushioned by a layer of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), it can be injured if the shaking force is strong enough. There may also be tissue damage in the brain from torsion and twisting that are often part of the accident picture.
When bruising occurs, capillaries are damaged and nerve pathways are disrupted. The area becomes inflamed as the immune defense of the brain – the microglial cells – activate to clear the debris.
While it is an excellent emergency measure for healing and stabilization, inflammation temporarily prevents the brain from using certain communication pathways as it usually would.
Unlike a bruise to an isolated area like the shin, concussions cause damage to “command central” for every physical and cognitive function. Depending on which parts of the brain are injured, the trauma can affect cognition, sensory processing, emotional balance, sleep, and decision-making.
Obvious symptoms of concussion are headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and nausea, but there are many more. They may appear immediately, hours after the incident, or even days later. And they may change over time.
The neck may be involved as well. Subluxation of vertebrae in the neck can complicate brain trauma. Note also that symptoms of neck injury and brain injury are much the same. (1) It takes a trained professional to determine the root of the problem.
Concussion recovery is like reclamation in the aftermath of a hurricane. As the storm clears and the waters recede, some areas will be accessible right away, even though roads may be rough. Over time more areas will open up naturally. But the log jams won’t clear themselves, and washed-out bridges require manual repair.
Likewise, inflammation in the brain should decrease as the situation resolves. The nerve pathways slowly return to normal functioning. But sometimes the microglia remain in a hyperactive state; inflammation and disruption continue. In this case, a person may experience long-term post-concussion syndrome.
For some people, symptoms left untreated may never go away. Autoimmune disease, food sensitivities, blood sugar and gut imbalances can compound the problem. It’s a complicated subject that Dr. Paul Austin, a functional neurologist, will happily explain.
If symptoms have lasted more than a couple of weeks, we suggest scheduling a consultation as soon as possible to learn more about your unique situation.
Dr. Austin can help determine the severity of the injury and which parts of the brain have been affected. He develops a complete picture with neurological workups, balance, coordination, and timing assessments, and spinal exams. He uses his expertise in functional medicine to create a holistic treatment plan.
The plan for concussion recovery may involve brain training technologies like the Interactive Metronome and the Neuro Sensorimotor Integrator, as well as supportive exercises you can do at home. Each of these tools helps the brain reorganize its neural pathways, form new ones, and strengthen them over time through repetition.
TIPS FOR CONCUSSION CARE
THE FIRST 24-48 HOURS:
Just rest. Sleep as much as you need so the brain can fully attend to healing. Have another person close by to monitor your symptoms and assist with movement if required. While you don’t need to lie still in a dark room the whole time, do keep exertion and stimulation to a minimum.
This initial period of rest allows the brain to stabilize and neural pathways to reorganize after the injury. Any challenge means your brain needs to respond rather than rest. Let someone else drive until you are feeling better.
FOR THE FIRST WEEK OR TWO:
- You may begin gentle activity and encourage rebuilding. But be patient – don’t expect much of yourself mentally or physically. Rest between short periods of activity and continue to sleep a lot.
- It has been suggested mild aerobic exercise (like a stationary bike) followed immediately by a cognitive challenge (any kind of puzzle) helps restore connections between neurons and encourages healing and neuroplasticity. (2)
- Identify and avoid triggers – whatever makes the symptoms worse. Usually, symptoms are triggered by overstimulation; bright lights, loud sounds, and screens are some of the biggest offenders.
- Never mind the light our phones, tablets, laptops and TV screens emit… all the visual and auditory signals require focus and interpretation. That’s hard work for an injured brain! Tracking movement and quickly changing screens adds another layer of challenge. Limit screen time during these first weeks.
- Triggers may be particular movements like turning your head or bending over. If it makes a headache or dizziness worse, if it blurs your vision or makes your heart race – don’t do it! The secret to strengthening and improvement is alternating between small challenges that don’t increase your symptoms, and rest.
- Avoid movements that will jostle your brain and cause further trauma. Quick movements of the head and neck, jogging, even going downstairs too fast could slow recovery.
- Airplane travel may not be a good idea at this time. Air turbulence and changes in cabin pressure will likely make you feel worse.
- Alcohol is a neurotoxin. Drinking alcohol will likely make your symptoms worse and will certainly slow your healing. Don’t drink during concussion recovery.
- Avoid Re-injury! This is the most critical rule of post-concussive care. If you have another concussion while recovering from the first, you risk prolonged symptoms and even permanent brain damage. While you’re healing, dizziness and other symptoms you’re experiencing put you at higher risk for another injury. Be safe and refrain from potentially harmful activities.
- Eat regular meals. Increased protein, omega 3s, and antioxidants can help with the regeneration and protection of brain tissue. (3)
- An anti-inflammatory diet can decrease inflammation in the injured area. If this is too much to take on right now, at least avoid the biggest offenders: sugar and processed foods.
- Hydration is always essential and ensures enough CSF to bathe the brain and help it heal. (4)
FOR CONTINUED IMPROVEMENT:
Hopefully, you’ll be feeling much better after a couple of weeks and slowly returning to your normal activities. But continue to let your symptoms be your guide. Refrain from any mental or physical exertion that causes your symptoms to get worse or generates new ones. You may still need more rest than is normal for you. Listen to your body and respect the healing process.
The brain is a miraculous organ – so capable of recovery and change. If there could be a silver lining to this injury, it might be that you learn more about your brain through the neurological testing and treatment that helped you heal. Continue to challenge your brain in targeted, therapeutic ways. Taking brain balance and agility to the next level, you could feel and function better than ever before!
If you have questions about concussion recovery or our unique approach to treatment, please contact us. We’re happy to help.