Research indicates that healing and recovery from a concussion injury can take four months or longer. This is much longer than the previous recommendations to simply take it easy and avoid more possibly damaging activity for a week. These new findings challenge conventions long assumed, as well as introduce the significant impact stress-reduction and diet can make on healing.
Encouraging the best possible healing from a concussion can be a major life event, and the challenges involved often fall upon young people. Individual athletes at the high school and collegiate levels sustain a surprisingly high number of head impacts, ranging from several hundred to well over 1,000 during a single season. Commitment will likely be tested as some of the recommended lifestyle changes comprise a radical simplification of lifestyle, a major challenge to most.
The signs of concussion can be subtle and, early on, may not even be noticed by patients, family members or even doctors. People may seem well; however, any symptoms that do become noticeable can include dizziness, fatigue and exhaustion, head pressure, blurry vision, sensitivity to light and sound, confusion, memory problems, ringing in ears, anger, abrupt mood changes, headache and nausea.
Research shows that specific things can be done (and not done) to encourage the body’s own natural healing process, many of which can make a substantial difference.
A study in the Journal of Pediatrics concludes that, although maximum healing can take four months or longer, as little as one week away from physical and mental activity can result in significantly fewer symptoms and an improvement in mental performance. What this means is as little as possible of things like telephone calls, television, computers and even seeing friends and family. Such improvements can be had even if the one-week-away happens several months after the injury.
The director of the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey, Rosemarie Moser, notes the importance of this because her Center often does not see patients until months after their injury.
Participants in the study who were athletes and began their week of rest inside of a week of their injury saw test scores drop by 15 points on a 132-point scale. Those who started the week of rest more than 30 days from their injury saw similar results. Moser points out that these differences are significant, resulting in qualitative changes in how people feel.
The long and short is that the brain needs substantial rest for it to have a chance at substantial healing and recovery from a concussion. If not already in the habit, time in recovery from a brain injury can be ideal for meditation.
In The Journal of Neurosurgery, Drs. Barry Sears and Julian Bailes found possible benefits of DHA supplements/omega-3 fatty acids for concussion management.
“Animals receiving the daily fish oil supplement for 30 days post concussion had a greater than 98 percent reduction in brain damage compared with the animals that did not receive the supplement,” Dr. Sears said. It is hypothesized that the omega-3 fatty acids in the fish oil reduced the neural inflammation induced by the head injury.
Doing as much as possible to reduce inflammation throughout the body appears to be integral to the healing process. Specific information about anti-inflammation diets are readily available on the internet, but general tips are to seek variety throughout the spectrum of commonly acknowledged healthy foods. Such a diet includes as much fresh fruits and vegetables as possible and the minimization of processed food and fast foods. The elimination of caffeine & sugar can also be helpful.
Extra weight appears to make symptoms worse but, toward this end, it is very important to distinguish between the “good” and “bad” fats. Good fats are essential for the brain and encouraged for brain recovery. These include coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado. Bad fats (saturated and trans-) include animal products and those found in man-made (processed) foods.
In general, healing and recovery from a concussion is slower in older persons. Also, persons who have had a concussion in the past may find that it takes longer to recover from their current injury.
By Gregory Baskin