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Chiropractic Care for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Published Date: 
October 12, 2022
Categories:
A woman is suffering from a mTBI after a car accident.

If you are struggling with the symptoms of concussion (mTBI), chiropractic treatments can help alleviate symptoms and expedite healing.

How Chiropractic Care Can Help with Concussion Recovery

A concussion is a serious condition that goes further than the initial state of confusion. Head trauma, usually mild, causes concussions. Chiropractic care for mild traumatic brain injuries helps align the spine and skull to treat concussion symptoms. This article introduces you to concussion symptoms and how chiropractic care helps expedite recovery.

What Is a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury?

A mild traumatic brain injury or concussion is trauma to the head that violently shakes your brain inside your skull. Accidents and falls are the top two causes of concussions. However, sports injuries, particularly in football, account for over 300,000 concussions annually. The hallmark symptom of concussion is the dazed effect you feel after a blow or jolt to the head. 

You do not always have to experience confusion after a concussion. Symptoms may take hours or days to manifest. You may notice fatigue, migraines, inability to concentrate, and forgetfulness as the initial symptoms. Consider your concussion an emergency if you start developing slurred speech, seizures, or repeated vomiting. Sometimes the symptoms ease off with adequate rest. In extreme cases, persistent symptoms can last for months or years, causing post-concussive syndrome (PCS).

What Is Post-Concussive Syndrome?

Post-concussive syndrome is when concussion symptoms persist for months or years after the traumatic brain injury. There are no criteria to determine who will develop PCS, but generally speaking, the more you leave symptoms unchecked, the more chronic they become. Athletes are at greater risk if they engage in contact sports. Players can suffer from second impact syndrome, which develops into PCS over time.

Over 30% of people with concussions usually develop post-concussive syndrome. Multiple concussions do not directly translate to PCS. 

Damage to the brainstem in the C1 section of the spine causes PCS. An injury to the head misaligns the atlas (C1) and axis (C2), impairing the brainstem's proper function. The brainstem is the brain’s communication pathway. Think of the brain stem as the traffic lights in your brain that control blood and oxygen flow to specific organs. Interruption of the system breaks down the brain functions, such as forming new memories. Damage to the brain stem and adjacent structures through trauma explains the state of confusion most people report after sustaining a concussion. 

PCS is not a matter to overlook and wish away. It can detrimentally affect your brain function and even cause death in severe cases. The initial step in seeking treatment is knowing the symptoms. Then, seek concussion management.

Symptoms of PCS

PCS symptoms may take weeks or months to manifest, especially if you ignore the initial symptoms of concussion. The symptoms usually wear off in 3-6 weeks. Symptoms vary in severity, and you may occasionally experience remission. The symptoms of PCS are categorized into the following subclasses:

Physical Symptoms of PCS

Physical symptoms of PCS are usually the first ones you spot. You may notice them almost immediately or weeks after the trauma. Here are the key physical PCS symptoms to watch out for:

  • Post-traumatic headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Fatigue
  • Fever 
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Gastrointestinal complications such as acid reflux
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Neck pain

You may not experience all of the above physical symptoms. The degree of trauma influences the severity of the physical symptoms. Severe trauma may cause seizures, while mild trauma will not.

A man is suffering from depression because of a mild traumatic brain injury.

Cognitive Symptoms of PCS

The cognitive symptoms of PCS may not appear immediately. The absence of physically detectable injuries of trauma to the brain and the lengthy manifestation period make the symptoms harder to detect. The cognitive symptoms appear when there’s damage to the hypoactive brain regions. The symptoms are:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty finding things
  • Memory loss
  • Easily distracted

The adverse cognitive effects of PCS may cause behavioral changes. Post-concussive syndrome affects the cerebral cortex and the limbic system, causing behavioral changes. You may notice mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depression. 

Sensory Symptoms of PCS

PCS affects your cognitive abilities as well as the sensory organs. You may experience the following post-concussive syndrome sensory symptoms:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Blurry vision
  • Ringing in the ears

How Long Does it Take mTBI to Heal?

There is no preset recovery time for mTBI. Each mTBI case is unique, and so is the recovery period. However, most patients recover in a week to 3 months without specialized treatment. Adequate rest returns your body to its pre-mTBI state. The improvements are usually rapid in the first few weeks, but complete recovery is gradual and takes time. Age is a factor that also determines the recovery period. If you are older than 40, it may take longer to heal from mTBI. Luckily, chiropractic care can expedite recovery.

Can Chiropractic Care Help You Recover from a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury?

Mild traumatic brain injury damages the vertebrae in the neck and base of the head. Chiropractors dealing with the upper cervical adjustments have much success treating symptoms of mTBI. 

A case study for a 30-year-old female who complained of neck pain and vertigo received relief after six weeks of upper cervical adjustments. The woman also had a restricted range of motion after a motor vehicle accident.

Imbalances in the spine, particularly vertebral subluxation, impinge on the nerves and brainstem, affecting cognitive abilities and causing pain. The subluxation also affects the parasympathetic and sympathetic nerves, inhibits cerebral spinal fluid flow, and adversely affects the autonomic nervous system. 

Chiropractic care involves various treatment modalities, but the core is spinal adjustment. Chiropractic adjustment for mTBI combines a holistic and targeted approach to treat mTBI. Post-concussive syndrome treatment promotes self-healing in the body as well as expediting recovery. Spinal adjustments realign the spine to improve spinal fluid flow and the function of the autonomic nervous system. 

Instead of popping pain-relieving drugs, consider chiropractic care that treats the cause rather than the symptoms. Chiropractic care is non-invasive and all-natural, meaning you will receive faster respite from concussion symptoms than surgery and other pharmacological treatments.

Chiropractic Treatments for Symptoms of Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries

A chiropractor is treating a woman for mild traumatic brain injury symptoms.

Chiropractic treatment for concussion rolls multiple modalities into one comprehensive treatment. Before the chiropractor begins the treatment, you will undergo a physical exam, neurological tests, motion assessment, and imaging tests.

An MRI cannot solely diagnose mild traumatic brain injury. However, a functional type of MRI called fNCI analyses blood flow to different parts of your brain. The chiropractor can determine the regions that call for more blood than others, indicating concussion.  

The different diagnostic tests are to distinguish other possible causes of your symptoms, such as whiplash or poor posture from concussion. The doctor may recommend blood tests for further testing to ascertain the cause. Only after an accurate diagnosis will the chiropractor tailor a treatment plan. All tests are done on the first visit to the chiropractor.

During the second and subsequent visits, you can expect the following treatments:

  • Spinal Adjustments: Upper cervical spinal adjustments involve gentle thrusts to correct the spinal misalignment caused by trauma. A chiropractor may leverage instrument-assisted adjustments, but in most cases, the manipulation is done entirely by hand. Spinal adjustments relieve pressure from the nerves and brainstem, restoring your cognitive functions and eliminating the headaches concussion causes.
  • Ultrasound: The chief intent of ultrasound therapy is to reduce inflammation that causes neck pain. Ultrasound devices reduce irritation in the nerves, conferring a pain-free neck.

Chiropractic care for mild traumatic brain injuries involves gentle thrusts because of the proximity to the brain. Unlike other spine regions, the upper cervical region will not involve treatments like flexion-distraction techniques. The chiropractor needs to combine adjustments with complementary therapy to expedite recovery. Since concussion affects the vestibular and vision systems, you will need vestibular and vision therapy. 

The multidisciplinary treatment sometimes involves massage therapy and rest. The core aims of chiropractic care for concussion are to increase the action of neurotransmitters, improve spinal fluid flow, reduce the action of neuropeptides, and reinstate the range of motion in your neck to expedite recovery. Medications do not have such success since most mTBI medications are ineffective and can have long-term consequences. 

The recovery period depends on how your body responds to chiropractic treatments and the degree of the traumatic brain injury. Generally, your symptoms should resolve after nine visits to the chiropractor. The chiropractor's skill also plays a crucial role in recovery. Trauma affects different regions of the brain and may cause similar symptoms across various patients. The chiropractor needs to customize treatment rather than use a general spinal adjustment. Reputable chiropractors are approved by the American Association of Chiropractors or by individual chiropractic state boards. 

Conclusion

Mild traumatic brain injury can cause debilitating and life-threatening symptoms. It is essential to seek help rather than ignoring or struggling with the physical, cognitive, and sensory symptoms. Chiropractic care can help ease the symptoms through spinal adjustments and complementary therapies. Do not let your concussion worsen to PCS; instead, seek a reputable chiropractor to experience the multiple benefits of chiropractic care for mTBI.

Dr. Eric Neumann D.C.

Dr. Eric Neumann grew up in Alberta, Canada where he majored in Chemistry at the University of Calgary. During his time at University, he obtained licensure as a Massage Therapist. It was clear that hands-on healing would be his calling. After suffering multiple sport-related injuries he became interested in Chiropractic. Dr. Neumann graduated from Western States Chiropractic College in 2009. He has since specialized in the treatment and management of acute spinal injuries.

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