Concussions have been getting a lot of attention in the past few decades due to the high incidence of them among athletes. While a concussion can follow any kind of trauma to your head, they tend to occur at a high rate in sports such as hockey, football, and soccer. Consider these few examples:
- Vancouver Canucks hockey players Michael Ferland, Alexander Edler and Sven Baertshi have all been sidelined from several weeks to months after experiencing a concussion during the game. They reported symptoms that included blurred vision, headaches, depression, anxiety and dizziness and balance problems due to vestibular issues.
- In 2018 Lions player Arland Bruce lost his lawsuit against the Canadian Football League regarding compensation for concussion-related damages after he was allowed to return to the game despite continued concussion symptoms.
- After his death in 2016, Lions defensive lineman Rick Klaussen’s autopsy results found that he had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which is a degenerative brain disease linked to multiple concussions. His family reported that Klaussen experienced dementia, depression and mood swings from CTE prior to his death from cancer at the age of 57.
- Vancouver Whitecaps soccer player Masato Kudo experienced a graphic and horrifying concussion when a goalie collided with Kudo, leaving him lying on the field unconscious and bleeding from his mouth.
Some progress has been made in protecting athletes from concussions, in the form of better protective equipment, concussion guidelines, awareness and better care. We’re hearing more about concussions in athletes over the past several years because in some sports players have experienced a number of concussions over the course of their sports career. Repeated concussions can leave players with devastating health problems in the short term, but also years after they’ve retired from the sport. I played full-contact hockey in my first year of university and full contact rules changed a year later. In 1995 a national league called the Adult Safe Hockey League (ASHL) dedicated to safety in hockey for both male and female teams where the rules are more conservative and body checking isn’t allowed. Concussions can also happen in sports that are deemed to be less violent, such as skiing, snowboarding and cycling. And while a great number of concussions occur on the playing field, it’s also important to know that a concussion can occur in a number of ways. This includes falls, car accidents, collisions and other traumatic injuries.
A concussion is a kind of traumatic injury to your brain resulting from some kind of impact to your head or from a whiplash injury. While your brain is protected somewhat by the bones of your skull, it’s made of soft tissue. Trauma that causes the brain to bounce around against the sides of your skull can trigger chemical changes that injure your brain and cause long-term damage to your brain cells.
Your brain is both delicate and complicated, and the symptoms of a concussion can range from mild to severe. For many people, the result of a concussion can be extreme and life-changing. Sadly, because concussions aren’t usually considered to be life-threatening and because the symptoms can be difficult to describe, they’re often misdiagnosed and undertreated. In addition, it can take days or weeks after a concussion for the symptoms to appear. Early signs of a concussion include:
- Loss of consciousness immediately after impact
- Head pain, headaches, pressure in the head
- Loss of memory, especially of the events surrounding the injury
- Visual changes, such as seeing stars or flashes
- Feeling nauseous or vomiting
- Ringing ears
- Garbled speech
How long it takes to recover from a concussion is different for each person, and it depends on factors including the severity of the concussion, age and a history of previous concussions. A mild concussion may take weeks to months, and much longer for more severe cases, and sadly some people don’t ever fully recover.
Some patients who have experienced a concussion may develop post-concussion syndrome, in which the symptoms change and continue for many months to years after the original injury. This is not the same thing as CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is a neurodegenerative brain condition usually linked to multiple concussions. Post-concussion syndrome can be frustrating because often the symptoms can be hard to clearly define, but patients know that they don’t feel right. The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can include:
- Chronic headaches
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Concentration and memory problems
- Sleep issues
- Lack of energy, fatigue
- Sensory changes, such as sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises
- Mood disorders, including depression and anxiety
- Irritability, restlessness and episodes of anger
- Changes in personality
Natural Treatments for Concussion
Standard treatment for a concussion is pain relief and rest, both from physical activities and from mental stimulus. In addition, many people who have suffered from a concussion may be unaware that there are natural treatments that can help treat the symptoms related to a concussion and speed up the healing process.
Acupuncture is useful in treating concussions, and it works in a number of ways. It can help increase the circulation of blood to your brain which has been suppressed due to concussion. Research has also discovered that acupuncture acts to calm your sympathetic nervous system responsible for the fight or flight reaction to stress. Balancing the chemicals in your nervous system helps patients who are experiencing anxiety, insomnia and irritability. Acupuncture may also be used for pain relief, to treat nausea and to reduce headaches after sustaining a brain injury, as well as to treat neck and upper back pain resulting from the impact of the injury.
Acupuncture can also be paired with Chinese herbal medicine to support the healing process. An herbal formula may be used to promote healing, decrease pain, treat headaches, reduce anxiety or depression and enhance your energy as your brain and body heal.
In addition to acupuncture and herbal medicine, at BodaHealth we also treat patients who have sustained a concussion with low-level laser therapy, called cold laser. Cold lasers emit light particles that gently and safely penetrate deep into your body’s tissues, which causes a number of reactions that support healing deep at the cellular level. Researchers are just beginning to discover the wide range of uses for cold laser therapy, and one is in the treatment of brain injury. They have learned that this kind of light therapy provides improved cellular and circulatory function in the brain, which can translate into better brain activity and cognitive function.
It takes a lot of energy to heal from a concussion. While rest is an important component of the healing process, proper diet and nutrition is also crucial to the healing process. Our acupuncture practitioners, holistic nutritionist and naturopathic physician are all extremely competent in providing nutritional guidance to support your health and provide the energy you need while you heal from a concussive injury.
The bottom line is that concussions need to be taken seriously. If you’re experiencing the after-effects of a concussion, there are a number of natural healing strategies that can help provide relief. For more information, please contact BodaHealth today.
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Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.