What Medicine Isn’t Telling You About Healing Concussions
Today in the United States our emergency medical system is the best in the world when it comes to saving lives from trauma. But, much like other progressive illnesses or diseases, we fall way short with results when it comes to treating the fallout from trauma; especially traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
Research is finding that even mild TBI or concussions are being linked to many long-term neurological problems including Alzheimer’s, dementia, psychiatric symptoms like depression, aggression, personality changes, and even hormonal issues, etc. Especially if the patient struggles to return to pre-injury function as quickly as possible.
The hallmark diagnosis for continued symptoms after a head trauma is called Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). This often goes unrecognized and untreated because it is very vague in nature and PCS symptoms are very nonspecific.
PCS is defined by having at least 3 psychomotor symptoms within four weeks of the head trauma and lasting for 3 months or longer. The generalized symptoms can include: headaches, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, light/noise sensitivity, and poor focus and concentration.
*The vast majority of sports related concussions typically fall on the benign end of mild TBI, and about 90% of diagnosed concussions DO NOT include loss of consciousness.
There is no single explanation as to how symptoms occur in the brain and why recovery can be so unpredictable but it likely involves a wide array of differences in physiology and the pre-existing health of the person. Every case is unique and some people might have better results with certain therapies than others, but no matter the therapy the 5 keys to effective TBI treatment according to Dr. Dan Engle who authors the book The Concussion Repair Manual are the following:
- Nerve Growth and Repair
- Decreasing Inflammation and Oxidation
- Increasing Circulation and Oxygenation
- Removing Scarring, Proteins and Tangles
- Improving Cell Signaling and Function
Clinically, I have seen quite a few concussion cases in my 10 years of practice especially in younger people. Concussions from sports, motor vehicle trauma, and falls are among the top reasons. Most often I would see the patient months after their head trauma due to ongoing PCS and frustrations in finding solutions. Often, they have been to many other providers with no answers, a pocket full of medication, and no real strategy for healing.
The following guideline is a strategy that I have put in practice with patients and have had a great deal of success practicing when they have had any sort of TBI. This is not intended to replace an individual consultation with a licensed healthcare professional. Always consult your doctor or primary provider before incorporating any of the following to your treatment plan.
WHAT TO DO
- First rule out any serious intervention that may be required by visiting a medical professional for a comprehensive neurological evaluation and brain imaging if necessary. This is essential to establish a baseline of any symptoms that may be present.
- Rest and Sleep. It is imperative to get the required sleep for neurological and hormonal recovery and regeneration that only occurs during sleep. Resting is also important to remove any additional strain to the nervous system. It is recommended to limit any artificial light exposure especially from LED screens on handheld devices, laptops, and televisions, or anything that requires extreme visual concentration.
- Float tank therapy or restricted environment stimulation technique can be soothing and relaxing to the nervous system by restricting stimuli.
- Meditation or nose breathing techniques. I teach something called box-breathing where you sit quiet and breathe through your nose 5 seconds inhale, 5 second hold, 5 second exhale through the mouth, and 5 second hold. Repeat.
- Consume healthy fats from clean fatty fish, coconut oil, whole farm eggs, avocado, walnuts. These foods contain fats that will support repair of brain tissue, remove scarring, and decrease inflammation. Also consuming anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and green tea.
- Keep moving. Low-level non-strenuous movement is necessary to continue supporting blood flow to the brain, lymphatic drainage and positively stimulate the nervous system.
- Self myo-facial release. Gentle myo-facial release can support recovery of tissues in the neck and shoulders and help relieve pain and headaches.
* Get a thorough chiropractic assessment. A skilled chiropractor will be able to diagnose PCS and any evidence of whiplash that might have occurred with head trauma. EVERY SINGLE concussion case I have helped had neck trauma from their concussive event. This is critical in correcting to allow the nervous system to heal, the musculoskeletal system, joint function, range of motion, strength and eliminate pain and dysfunction.*
WHAT TO TAKE
- Glutathione. This is the major antioxidant in the brain and will assist in repair to the nervous system
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is neuroprotectant, immune supportive, and anti-inflammatory
- CBD oil. Full spectrum cannabinoids like CBD have been shown to be neuro-protectant and antioxidant
- Methylated B-vitamin. Easily absorbed B12 and others are neuroprotectant, neuro-regenerative, antioxidant.
- Curcumin. Anti-inflammatory, neuro-protectant, promotes plasticity and growth factors
- Fish Oil. High DHA fish oil is important for lowering inflammation, neurological repair, cell signaling
All supplements are hyperlinked to sources that are high quality, trusted, 3rd party tested companies such as Metagenics and Inside out Solutions.
WHAT TO AVOID
- Contact sports or any activities that may cause any risk of reaggravation to the brain.
- Sugar and refined carbohydrates. The inflammatory process in the body is fed by sugar, and refined carbs also cause excitatory reactions in the brain chemistry that can be detrimental to the healing process. Stick to healthy fats, proteins, veggies, nuts, and limit carbohydrate choices to fruits and starches.
- Stress (mental/emotional). Excess stress is never a good thing, but especially when the central nervous system is in recovery. The threshold for irritability, mood changes, and upset is much lower and will slow down recovery. Keep calm and avoid situations where extra stress is being added.
- Excess NSAID, opioid, or long-term SSRI use. While at first some pain medication may be needed, long-term use must be avoided at all costs. Opioids are addictive and dangerous, and NSAID meds can damage liver/kidney/gut health. Also, I have had multiple patients with PCS who suffered from anxiety and depression who were either taking psychotropic drugs with no plan to get off or were presented them as a solution. I’ll have you consider that their post-concussive anxiety and depression may have been avoided all together had they been treated properly in the early stages of their TBI, but also that there are some serious long-term side-effects to taking psychotropic meds in the first place.
I want to recognize Dr. Dan Engle again for his fantastic Concussion Repair Manual that has guided me with my protocols in caring for my patients who have come to me as a last resort for their concussion symptoms or have brought their child to me for help. Concussions are still very misunderstood and more research is being done every day to understand more about the consequences of head trauma.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to educate yourself about advancements in this field because head traumas are on the rise and so are all the problems due to the mis-handling of these patients’ cases.
If you or a loved one is suffering from PCS don’t hesitate to call our office at 978-655-4979 and mention that you read this blog and that you would like an evaluation. By doing this we will honor a discount of $47 for your evaluation and report (value $240).
Be safe and stay informed!
-Dr. Ryan Hewitt