Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Concussion Syndrome — The Ultimate Guide

— BY Corey Deacon | Reading Time: 27 min

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Are you looking for the right concussion clinic in Calgary, Alberta but aren’t sure which one is best suited to help you and your unique symptoms?

In this resource, we’re going to arm you with deep knowledge about brain injury, concussions and post-concussion syndrome. After going through this resource you will walk away feeling confident that you can now make the most informed decision about what brain injury clinic is best suited to getting you the results you are looking for.

We understand that staying focused on the right content after a concussion can be difficult. That’s why this page doesn’t need to be read like an article from top to bottom and why we put together the handy table of contents below.

Feel free to skip around to the information that applies most to you.

Table of Contents

What is a concussion, REALLY? — A definition for the non-medically trained

If you feel like you cannot seem to fully understand a concussion, you’re not alone. Most pages on the net are too technical, especially for someone with a concussion. Assuming you’re not a Doctor, it makes it difficult to understand what to do when you or someone you know has a concussion.

Here’s our simplified version…

It is an impact on the head or body, which causes the brain to rattle around in the skull and become damaged.  
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Around 2.5 million concussions happen per year in The United States. (there is very little data for Canada)

The sad reality is that 10% of these people won’t get better after three months and will never get better without further intervention. That is between 250 to 350,000 a year in just the United States alone.

A critical thing to note before reading on is that every concussion is unique in its cause and effects. It is important to look for the root cause of concussions and not treat every person with a concussion in the same cookie cutter manner.

A concussion is a brain-based injury that requires brain-based solutions.

When to go to the emergency room

ER doctor checking kid for concussion after sport injury

We would recommend that you head to the ER right after your accident. It’s important to get checked out by a doctor to make sure you don’t have any life-threatening problems like fractures or brain bleeds.

Are concussions just for athletes?

Heck no.

In fact, most of those we help at our Calgary clinic are everyday people.

We have found that most athletes don’t want to admit a concussion and be forced to be benched. It’s a serious problem in most sports.

That’s why we applaud what Brian McGrattan is doing for the NHL and Calgary Flames Hockey Team with Player Development which helps players deal with concussion symptoms that can lead to alcohol and drug abuse and the pressures of the sport.

Symptoms — including the little known ones

If you’ve had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) you’ve probably heard…

“Oh, you look normal.”

“You look fine.”

“You’re okay.”

“No, you’re not that depressed.”

…we know what it feels like for people to discredit what you are feeling and it can be even harder when you have weird symptoms that don’t match the typical concussion symptoms that traditional doctors look for.

Did you have some very minor problems start before your head injury happened?

Maybe some small digestive problems, the odd headache here and there, your attention and memory wasn’t as good as it used to be, but it was okay. It was tolerable. It was maybe a 1 or a 2 out of 10. 

This is the case for a lot of people. We often think that we’re clean slates because we feel great. And in a lot of cases, there are underlying problems that are brewing and the head injury acts as the trigger that then sets a cascade of a whole bunch of reactions off.

Some little known symptoms that can come up after a traumatic brain injury are:

Headaches

After a concussion don’t be surprised if one of your symptoms is headaches. They are one of the most common symptoms that people get.

For most people, they will go away within a few weeks but if they stick around any longer, you should see a concussion specialist to find out why you are still having them.

Dizziness or Disorientation

Does it constantly feel like your world is spinning but you are actually standing still since your head injury? If so you’re dealing with dizziness or disorientation.

You will need a concussion specialist to asses you thoroughly since there are many different reasons why it could be happening to you. The first would be a metabolic problem in your brain.

When you have a metabolic problem it means that the mitochondria in your cells are not creating enough energy for you and since you have them everywhere you can have metabolic problems in different parts of your body. If you have metabolic problems happening in your cerebellum or on the top of your brain, that’s what would be creating your dizziness problems. It may even be that you injured your neck or got whiplash during your concussion and now have a vagal nerve problem.

Have you ever had a shiver go down your back before? That’s your vagal nerve. It runs down the left side of your neck and has a role in our fight and flight, and the rest and digest state. When we’re in fight or flight for too long, we move into another state called faint or freeze.

Imagine for a moment, that you’re a gazelle on the Serengeti, and a lion jumps out from behind some bushes. You would probably run, and as you do, your body will go into the fight or flight state.

Our fight or flight state activates so we can get away from there. When you get caught, you might fight for a while, until you realize that you’re screwed. And in that case, you will play dead. You will hope the lion leaves you alone, long enough for you to get away, and then you can lay down somewhere and hope that you heal.

Now I’m sure you don’t have a lion running after you often, but when a human is in a faint or freeze or play dead response for two long you might feel dizzy when you go from sitting to standing, your blood pressure might drop, and your heart rate increases. Your body thinks that it’s in distress just like that gazelle on the Serengeti.

If you have post-concussion syndrome and your symptoms are severe enough, you can develop a syndrome called POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. For lack of a better term, it will feel like you’re going to faint when you stand up, or when you go from lying to sitting to standing, any time you have a change in gravity.

Finally, your dizziness could be caused by an immune molecule that can upregulate after a head injury called MMP9. It is really inflammatory and can even become worse through electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) exposure from electronic devices.

Fatigue

Women feels tried after a concussion. Puts post-it notes over eye to look awake.

Right after a concussion, it is common to feel more tired and sleepy. But, if your fatigue has been going on longer then a couple of weeks, you might have something called chronic fatigue syndrome, which means you always feel tired no matter how much sleep you get.

Fatigue can be frustrating to fix since you will often hear that the cause of fatigue is unknown. I’m here to tell you that’s untrue, and there are many reasons why you might be feeling tired.

You could have inflammatory immune disregulation happening. It’s kind of like someone’s started your brain on fire and locked all the doors, which means something going on inside your brain that is preventing the inflammation from shutting off. It will make you feel like your mind is more asleep then it is awake.

Blue Light can also make your fatigue worse. You have probably heard people talk about how blue light, especially at night, can make it hard to fall asleep. If you are already struggling with fatigue, it can make it even worse. Our eyes tell our brain how much melatonin to produce, and if we get blue light in our eye at 9 pm, our brain thinks it’s 10 am. Your brain will start wanting to wake everything up; you’ll get a second wind, and not want to sleep.

Irritability

Has it felt like you’ve been quicker to snap your spouse, or you’ve gotten road rage a little more often since your TBI? That’s irritability.

Your irritability could be caused by metabolic problems in your temporal lobe or EMR exacerbating your injury.

Another cause that we haven’t talked about yet is communication problems in your brain. Communication problems happen when your brain gets damaged and the cells within your brain can not communicate properly because they are speaking different languages to each other now.

I don’t know about you but I’m sure I would feel pretty irritable to if one part of my brain was to speak Russian to the the English parts.

Anxiety

Have you felt more uneasy and worked up after a head injury.

Having compulsive behaviour problems or panic attacks. If you’ve been told that it will go away or they don’t know the reason and you should just go on medication for the rest of your life, know that there are real reasons and you can resolve them.

Problems in your cerebellum might be what is causing your anxiety. It actually acts as a relay station in your brain which helps with the timing of signals going to other parts of the brain.

Insomnia

Have you felt like most nights since your concussion that you just lay in bed for hours trying to fall asleep and finally you just get up and start your day at 3 am? You have insomnia.

It is a disorder that makes it difficult to sleep and feel like you know no energy at all.

Now if you have inflammatory problems, it could be causing the issue. Have you heard about the gut-brain research over the last few years?

Scientist have been studying the connections between the gut and the brain. We always knew there was a relationship between the immune system and the gut. Now we know there are even electrical connections between them which are mediated through the vagal nerve. 

80 to 90% of our serotonin is made in our gut. Our ability to sleep goes out the window when our serotonin drops, and if something has been triggered in the gut it won’t repair itself until you fix what triggered it in the first place.

This is what is known as a downstream injury from a head injury.

You can also have other hormone problems from head trauma as well. A hormone in particular called MSH also affects sleep because it affects your ability to produce melatonin, which is important for sleep. You have probably seen stores sell melatonin for you to take for sleep support, but it is also something your body creates.

If you are relying on melatonin supplements to sleep at night you should check with your doctor to see if your MSH levels are low.

Loss of concentration and memory problems

Concentration and memory problems often go hand in hand because they are caused by a lot of the same issues in the body.

This type of problem can be life-changing to someone after head trauma. Not being able to concentrate and remember things can make it feel like your work is impossible to do and poses a threat to your income.

Emotional limbic hijacking is one of the reasons this happens.

The largest human health study in the history of the world was called the Adverse Childhood Experience study. In it, they looked at how many adverse experiences someone has gone through, especially in childhood, like physical abuse or parents divorced. They found that the higher the score for these experiences, the more significant health problems a person would have.

It turns out that head injury is no different. The resiliency to recover from a head injury is related to our emotional experiences, and it can cause memory and concentration problems.

Depression

Depression is a common problem after a traumatic brain injury. You may feel sad more than you did before your injury or feel like you have lost interest in things that you used to enjoy.

One primary reason people suffer from depression after head trauma is vagus nerve dysfunction. As I talked about earlier with dizziness, your body can get stuck in a constant back and forth between fight or flight and faint or freeze. The Gazelle will pretend to play dead when a lion attacks them in the hope that they will be left alone and able to heal.

This is what happens to humans as well. When we go into fight or flight too long, whatever puts us there can send us up to faint freeze and play dead response, because our nervous system literally thinks that the assault that is on the system is so bad that we might die.

This can cause someone to have suicidal ideations. You don’t want to commit suicide necessarily, but your brain is coming to grips with the fact that you might not live. The funny thing is, though, is that you will live.

You might just be dealing with chronic problems.

Ringing in the ears

Man pressing fingers into his ear because it is ringing.

The medical term for ringing in the ears is called tinnitus. Tinnitus can happen after a concussion, and not only if there is damage to the inner ear or your auditory nerves.

Although direct damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve can cause tinnitus, it is also possible that a brain cell called a glial cell is turning itself on and not shutting itself down. This leads to a phantom sensation of ‘ringing.’ It is more accurate to describe tinnitus as ‘ringing across the entire brain’ as this is what is usually what is occurring.

One region that typically is affected before tinnitus onset is the insula, a region of emotional regulation. This explains why some people with tinnitus can feel extreme anxiety and emotional distress during periods of ringing.

Blurry vision

Blurry vision is a common problem after a concussion. Up to 82% of people who have suffered from a concussion will have some sort of vision problem, although it can be worse than just blurry vision.

You might be having blurry vision because of an inflammatory problem called leaky brain. Have you heard of the phenomenon called leaky gut? Leaky gut is a digestive condition where bacteria and toxins can “leak” through the intestinal wall. This may trigger inflammation and change your gut flora. It can lead to problems within the digestive tract and the rest of your body.

Leaky gut can actually lead to a leaky brain. The exact same aspect happening in the nervous system is what happens in the gut. The barrier that prevents things from getting from the blood to the brain is disrupted, and it makes us prone to a lot of problems.

A leaky brain can cause problems with your vision because blood perfusion happens behind the retina and within the optic nerve. So those blood vessels might not be getting enough blood flow, thus causing vision problems.

Noise sensitivity

Another ear related problem is noise sensitivity or hyperacusis.

Everyday sounds that you may have never even noticed before your concussion might be making you jump out of your skin now.

Hyperacusis is similar to the problem related to ‘ringing in the ears.’ Because of glial cell issues, which are specialized brain cells, the volume dial kind of gets stuck on.

When this happens, our tolerance for noise decreases and our nervous system becomes hugely overwhelmed with even the quietest sounds.

The glial cell issues are due to the activation of a threat response from the limbic system, an emotional system deep within the brain. When this occurs, stress activation happens, and we will feel overwhelmed and withdrawn and typically need to avoid the stimulus at all costs. This affects the quality of life and the ability to do everyday tasks significantly.

Light sensitivity

Light sensitivity is the second most common symptom people with a concussion will experience.

It is typically due to the occipital lobe at the back of the brain being affected by head trauma.

The occipital lobe can sometimes cause issues with optic nerve functioning, especially in cases of front-to-back head injuries, which results in the occipital lobes being overwhelmed and unable to process and filter out lights properly.

Similar to noise sensitivity, it creates a stress response and leads to a distress signal in threat detection regions of the brain. These signals result in further activation of stress, which causes us to want to avoid the stimulus altogether. It makes it extremely difficult for people to live normal lives, including spending time in the sun, working, shopping and driving.

Decreases in taste and smell

Decreased taste and smell happens to as much as 25 percent of people after a TBI. It is usually due to an injury that affects your body’s sense of smell like your olfactory bulbs and nerves which tell your brain what you are smelling.

Decreased sense of smell can also occur if an area in the frontotemporal regions of the brain called the uncus is affected by the head injury. Since the loss of smell usually affects your sense of taste, it can be disappointing when this occurs.

Loss of coordination

The room spinning after your lose your balance.

The leading cause of coordination problems after a TBI is problems in your cerebellum.

The cerebellum is the center for coordinating signals in the brain. It is responsible for making sure everything is timed correctly, similar to a conductor of an orchestra. If areas within the brain fire before they are supposed to or simply do not fire at all, then coordination of signals will cause dysfunction and can lead to poor balance or coordination.

Lethargy

Lethargy is a pathological state of sleepiness or deep unresponsiveness and inactivity.

This occurs to the metabolic (energy production) effects of a head injury and usually due to hormone disruption. It is well-known that a head injury can induce hormonal insufficiency such as growth hormone, thyroid hormones, DHEA, testosterone, progesterone, estrogens, and many other peptide hormones.

These hormones are essential for signalling the cell to produce energy, and when this doesn’t happen, lethargy or chronic fatigue occurs.

Nausea

Have you had the sensation of feeling as though you will vomit since your traumatic brain injury?

Nausea typically occurs due to the dysfunction of the communication between our visual centers, balance centers, and other sensory centers. When dysfunction happens, the brain feels like there is an error between what we are seeing, where we are in space, and what direction our head is facing.

This creates a sense of vertigo that can manifest as nausea.

Emotional changes

We often hear from clients that have post-concussion syndrome that they have a hard time controlling their mood like they used to. It can make them feel like bad parents or spouses because they might just snap at any time.

There has been lots of research published on how EMR exposure can cause mood problems and swings. There is an immune molecule that up regulates after a head injury, called MMP9, and it is affected by EMRs. Things like Wi-Fi, cell phone radiation right up against our head, or magnetic fields that run behind the wall where we set our head when to go to sleep, can make it worse.

Being “in a fog”

One symptom we hear a lot of clients with post concussion syndrome have is brain fog.

Brain fog makes you feel confused, or like you are having a hard time focusing. Brain fog typically occurs due to metabolic problems in the frontal lobe.

The brain enters a healing crisis after a head injury. When this happens, the brain cells responsible for repair ‘steal’ energy from regions that are not in a crisis – the frontal and temporal lobes.

This causes memory, concentration, and focus problems, which leads people to feel like they are in a thick fog, unable to properly encode the world around them, and let alone carry on a conversation or remember a phone number.

Gut Problems

Women holds on to stomach because it is uncomfortable.

After your head injury were you told that you have something like IBS? How about given medication and told by the doctor they don’t know why you are having gut problems?

Your gut and your brain are intimately connected. There have been studies done studies on how traumatic brain injuries cause intestinal damage.

Often times when you see gut problems after a head injury your vagal nerve is involved, which is the electrical connections between the brain and the gut. The vagal nerve is a cranial nerve that runs down the left side of the neck, and so when you get whiplash, you can end up damaging the communication of this nerve causing your gut to not function like it should

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is another symptom that can frequently be pushed aside after a concussion and be called fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is just a blanket term given to people with pain when there’s no real reason why it is happening, but the thing is if you look hard enough, you can find a cause. A common reason for chronic pain is hormone problems after a concussion. 

There is an essential part of our brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary. It almost looks like a uvula that hangs at the back of our throat, but it’s in our brain. It is the master region for running and regulating all our hormones. It dumps stuff into the bloodstream that then tells all of our glands and organs what hormones to produce.

Now you can imagine if you get a head injury, especially a whiplash injury, what can be effected in the rest of your body.

One hormone that gets deregulated by head trauma it the MSH hormone. Its primary role is to allow us to tan, but it also affects other functions in our bodies like sleep.

It affects your ability to produce melatonin and produce endorphins, which is essential for pain control. You can get pain all over your body because of this, like what happens in fibromyalgia, just from a head injury and your MSH levels dropping low.

Concussions — NOT just a physical problem

Why traditional medicine constantly falls short on fixing the less talked about symptoms

Conventional medicine treats the concussion directly all the time, but it’s usually not enough.

If you take someone who is a year post-concussive and they go see a concussion specialist in Calgary, they might be told, “We gotta treat the concussion.” 

So they have a hard time putting two and two together after a head injury because they are only looking at the concussion and aren’t asking, “did you have any of these problems before your concussion?”

Symptoms like gut problems after a head injury won’t link together with this approach. And if they do, you will probably just get prescribed medication to mask the true problem.

After you don’t get better, generally the next step in traditional medicine is either an MAO inhibitor, a tricyclic antidepressant, or amitriptyline because conventional medicine will just say “Okay, let’s just guess, and try to get things to shift.” And your left to guessing and wasting your time and your life.

Then the problems mount up from the side effects of the medication. A lot of times when I work with people that have had post-concussion syndrome for years, it’s a struggle to separate out what the drug effect is and what the real effect is. 

This can make it hard for someone suffering from a concussion to find the best concussion clinic in Calgary because they don’t know if they are just going to be put on more medications that make them feel worse.

Electro-chemical problem

Brain plugging in a light blub.

When someone gets a concussion, they get put into a box of how they are going to be treated and usually, that means putting a big focus on what is going on with the person physically.

Now I am not saying that we should not look at the physical side of a concussion because there can be a lot going on after that a head injury, and there are some awesome people in Calgary that can help with that. Still, we often forget that the brain is an electro-chemical organ.

The keyword here is ELECTRO. We can’t treat the nervous system as purely chemical, which is currently what conventional medicine does.

It is electrical, and it is chemical, and we need to treat it that way. Some very minor changes can be made where we add magnetic stimulation into our protocols, but for the most part, they are using chemicals to try to manipulate the electrical activity of the brain, and it hasn’t worked very well for most people.

Concussion protocols that get you back to life.

Our multi-disciplinary approach to assessment and care is designed to help you recover as quickly and safely as possible.

Examples of physical trauma creating chemical imbalances

Physical trauma can create chemical imbalances in many different ways. Some examples are:

  • Poor serotonin regulation – leads to low mood, depression, poor sleep, fatigue, loss of appetite, hot flashes, and anxiety

  • Dopamine disruption – leads to irritability, agitation, anxiety, anger, frustration, poor concentration/focus, brain fog, and other mood changes

  • Decreased levels of androgens such as testosterone and DHEA – leads to poor memory, mood swings, weight gain, depression, anxiety, weakness, muscle loss, and fatigue

  • Deregulated immune system molecules such as IL-1-beta, IL-4, IL-10, TNF-alpha, MMP-9, C2, C3, C4, and the rest of the innate immune system – this leads to inflammation that can run rampant throughout the body leading to pain in any region of the body, food sensitivities, chemical sensitivities and even EMF, light and sound sensitivities. Inflammation ensues and can trigger nearly every symptom known to man!

Physical trauma can cause a cascade effect with emotional trauma

The resilience to recover from a head injury is related to our emotional experiences. If your emotional limbic system is not working well a physical trauma can cause emotional trauma as well.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to be able to change requires certain molecules. Those molecules are suppressed when the limbic system or the emotional system’s active.

This is something that is really important to address, and we know from our experience working with people with chronic illness, chronic problems are trauma in themselves.

A lot of practitioners don’t recognize it that way which is a big disservice to the people they are working with.

Rest and its Role

When to Rest

Man resting on a couch after a concussion with his little dog laying on top of him

Rest is helpful in the first two weeks after a head injury but after the two weeks, it can actually make symptoms worse.

Not everyone heals from rest alone

Becoming active and trying to resume your normal activities is essential to help with your concussion recovery.

Exercise is one of the best things for you. Now I know you’re thinking, “Exercise, yeah right, I wish I could.” But actually, five minutes of a low to moderate exercise improves the expression of proteins that are required to build new pathways in the brain by 50 to 75%. So you don’t need to kill yourself for an hour, an hour and a half to get the benefits.

Permanence of symptoms

It’s essential to remember that you’re not damaged — your communication and immune system is just all out of whack. You might have some structural damage in your brain, but a lot of times, the brain is plastic, it’s able to change.

You may have white matter in your brain that can’t be grown back, but your brain can learn how to communicate again by teaching it how to communicate differently. At Neurvana Health, we have a great method to isolate how this is happening, and then get you on an exact protocol to teach your brain how to get back to normal.

Will symptoms return more easily?

The short answer…

Yes…

But only for those with continuing concussion symptoms. If symptoms are fully resolved than susceptibility to subsequent injury is reduced.

What this means is that if somebody is fully evaluated for endocrine (hormonal), inflammatory, metabolic, electrical activity of the brain and musculoskeletal (structural) problems and these are resolved, then susceptibility to another concussion is reduced. For those who simply get better but do not fully address all these underlying issues, they will continue to be susceptible to injury.

Long-term effects of a traumatic brain injury

Long-term effects are:

  • increased cognitive decline which puts you at risk for dementia

  • Increased risk of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

  • Increased risk of pain disorders such as Fibromyalgia

  • Mental and emotional instability which can cause chronic stress, difficulties coping with stress, and affect personal relationships as well as job opportunities

  • Increased risk of autoimmune disorders

Before getting help:

Is focusing just on the area of trauma enough?

Focusing on just the concussion is not enough. Especially if you are post eight weeks after your concussion, and you’re not getting better.

At that point, we can no longer look at the concussion itself anymore. We have to look at what it has triggered that is keeping you stuck.

MRI/CTs and making sure there is no fracturing

MRI image of a brain after a traumic brain injury

CTs and MRIs are useful to have after you have had a head injury to make sure the structure of your skull and brain are ok. Doctors use the information they get from them to make sure that you have no fractures or hematomas.

Something that CTs and MRIs can not give you though it is a functional assessment of the brain. At our Calgary clinic, we don’t care much what the structure is doing unless there’s a hematomas or hemorrhage, then it is obviously a priority.

The problem is that so many people come out of MRIs or CTs with a normal scan but they do not feel normal. When you don’t feel normal, we need to look at how your brain is functioning with other tools, which I’ll adress in a moment.

Is concussion treatment from a chiropractor or physiotherapist going to be enough?

If you are struggling with post-concussion syndrome seeing a chiropractor or physiotherapist is probably not going to be enough. We believe that you have to look at both electro-chemical and physical symptoms together to make significant improvements.

Do you have a concussion or post-concussion syndrome?

QEEG

qEEG brain map imaging from person with post-concussion syndrome.

One thing that we do different than other brain injury clinics in Calgary is that every person that works with us gets a qEEG. A qEEG stands for Quantitative Electroencephalogram. A qEEG gives us the ability to look at how the brain is functioning after a TBI.

As I mentioned above, our brain is electro- chemical. Using the qEEG we can see what is happening with the electrical side and how your brain waves are working with it.

These brain wave frequencies all get generated from different areas of the brain, and they will all cause various issues. Your brain waves allow the brain to communicate with itself and if the brain isn’t communicating well that’s where you run into problems. 

The qEEG allows us to see functionality in the brain by collecting electrical activity off of the brain. It allows us to characterize the level function, based on a database of gender and age matches.

For example, if you had a qEEG done it would be generated through these databases so that your results can be compared to other men/women that are your age. This is essential information to have because we want to see what your function is compared to other people your age in a normative database.

I think that every athlete in the entire world should be having one of these before the season starts because it’s the only way to objectively know where they’re at and objectively see if they’ve actually come back to baseline or not after they have had a head injury.

It also allows us to pick apart this complex highway of what a concussion is or what we call the pathophysiology of a concussion.

Eye movement and vision

Assessing eye movements, vision, and pupil behaviour, we can assess the deeper functioning of the cranial nerves. Cranial nerves are nerves that emerge high up in the spinal cord and are responsible for reflexive movements such as balance, coordination, eye movement/direction (convergence/divergence), and vision.

The eyes are the windows into the deeper functioning of these reflexive nerves and can give us insight into how severe the injury was and what works on a functional neurology level may be needed for full rehabilitation to occur.

This should not be confused for a traditional optometry assessment that will rarely if ever, detect any problems from previous concussions. 

The assessment of eye movements and vision can be used to assess head injuries that occurred even decades prior.

Heart rate variability

With heart rate variability we can assess the effects of the nervous system on heart rate. It is not well known but our heart is actually constantly speeding up and slowing down due to effects from the nervous system.

Heart-rate variability can be done in 1-minute to 24-hour intervals. What happens to your heart when your breath in and out tells us how well you are able to regulate your nervous system. It also allows us to see what state of the nervous system is dominating. We have several divisions of the nervous system:

Sympathetic Nervous System

AKA “fight-or-flight” – This state controls the activation of the stress response. It is important for delivering oxygen and other energy resources to cells, activating our muscles to do daily activities, and beating the heart.

It becomes problematic if this response becomes chronically activated as the body will not be able to heal properly.

Parasympathetic Nervous System

AKA “rest-or-digest” – This state controls, you guessed it, resting and digesting. It is essential for calming the fight-or-flight response, healing, reducing inflammation and balancing out the overall activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System.

It is important for releasing gastric secretions and stimulation for proper digestion as well. If this state becomes under-active it causes muscle tension, headaches, many gut problems including acid reflux, pain, bloating, and more.

If the state becomes overactive it is called vagal dominance.

Dorsal Vagal Dominance

This occurs when the fight-or-flight state has been chronically activated. This will happen after head injuries if underlying problems or downstream effects are not repaired.

It is the state we move into when we need to withdraw, heal, or are wounded. It can cause people to feel helpless, hopeless, depressed, withdrawn, dissociated, afraid, overwhelmed, and some may even have suicidal ideations as the brain prepares for “death”. I put death in quotations because really this is not what is happening but sometimes symptoms are so debilitating and the brain function is so terribly impaired that our brain truly believes we may be dying.

When this happens we can also experience panic attacks, out-of-body sensations (de-realization) and further dissociation. Unfortunately for some, suicide may even be attempted.

By comparing heart-rate variability to a normative database we can see what division of the nervous system above your body is spending the most time in. This is essential in determining return to play/work, treatment protocols and recovery time that will be required.

Therapies Available

A note about the therapies below: Before you start any of these therapies I strongly recommend that if any of the symptoms that were described in this article are happening to you to look into the reason why.

If you just use these techniques to try to medicate them, they are not necessarily going to give you long-term relief.

Neurofeedback

Concussion clinic technician putting neurofeedback electrodes on women's head.

Neurofeedback is a real-time training of the brain where we pick up how it’s behaving, and decide to either feedback information to the brain, or not. We actually steer the brain into functioning better by just feeding back information.

Neurofeedback is a lesser-known solution, but it has widely been adopted in clinics and hospitals due to its extremely high success rates with cognitive problems. When paired with nutraceuticals, a very powerful result is achieved.

This primarily helps with mood problems, memory, concentration, depression and anxiety. If you’re experiencing any of those symptoms, we are very experienced with providing lasting relief from these symptoms, and you can learn about our concussion rehabilitation protocol here.

Some studies on how neurofeedback helps with concussions:

  1.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24199220
  2. https://www.sciforschenonline.org/journals/neurology/JNNB-1-113.php
  3. https://www.sciforschenonline.org/journals/neurology/JNNB-1-110.php

Nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals consist of herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and other molecules that are sometimes single nutrients and other times blended into proprietary formulas. It also includes other molecules that I consider to be nutraceuticals including bioidentical hormones and peptides.

They are used to provide information and essential molecules to the body in order to heal, balance and regenerate. Before going on nutraceuticals it is essential that you go through testing to determine what is actually needed and in what doses.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Client laying in hyperbaric oxygen chamber

Hypoxia is a common condition to have after a concussion. It is from your brain not getting enough oxygen, and your brain is a very energy-hungry organ. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help you get more oxygen to your brain.

In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to higher than usual. Because of this, your lungs can take in more oxygen than when you are in normal air pressure helping your brain get the oxygen it needs to heal.

Using it in the first three months after your head injury can help you to get you back to normal, especially if you were comatose or unconscious.

Neurologist

Neurologists are extremely helpful in assessing and diagnosing structural and certain functional brain abnormalities. They mostly utilize CT and MRI imaging after head injuries and less commonly EEG.

They are important for receiving an official diagnosis but typically lack innovative treatment modalities to treat concussions. You do NOT need a neurologist to assess and heal from a concussion however some people choose to include one in their health team.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy assesses several different physical aspects of your body after a concussion to create a treatment plan to manage your concussion. There are four areas that they usually focus on.

  • Cervical spine – They will check your neck and spine to see if any injuries have happened. They use techniques like myofascial release, manual therapy, and strengthening exercises to treat that injury.
  • Vestibular issues – This asses dizziness or balance symptoms after a concussion. They use balance training and a technique called the canalith repositioning maneuver to help.
  • Visual Problems – These look at any visual problems. Ocular reflex training is used to help visual motor control to ease visual issues.
  • Exertion problems – If it feels like you are using more physical effort to do activities after a concussion they can assess you for exertion problems and give you exercises to get back your strength.

Chiropractic

Depending on the type of Chiropractor you see, they may do different assessments to asses your concussion. We recommend for all of our clients who have had a head trauma to go see an Upper Cervical or NUCCA Chiropractor to have your neck assessed.

They specialize in working with the top vertebra and are beneficial to see if you have whiplash during from traumatic brain injury. They can also help with symptoms like neck pain, headaches, dizziness and brain fog. You can find a NUCCA Doctor by visiting https://nucca.org/directory/

Hormone Replacement Therapy

A lot of people are scared of hormone replacement therapy, because of some very weak research articles that were written in the ’80s. They are incredible for reducing inflammation after a head injury and sometimes essential because our hormones drop slowly over time.

Hormone replacement therapy is useful for symptoms like chronic pain or insomnia.

How to prevent concussion symptoms from coming back?

The One mental shift that ALL people that have healed their concussion symptoms share is having a never-ending drive to get better no matter what the cost (emotional, mental, occupational, financial).

As our CEO Victor Pidkowich put’s it “you must be ruthless with taking back your health, and militant about following a proven plan”.

How to remove the fear of getting another concussion coming out of remission

Knowing there is help and you can get better no matter the circumstances is a great way to remove fear. However, if you do not believe this yet it is important to utilize treatments that allow you to regulate fear such as neurofeedback, EMDR, brainspotting, and other trauma techniques.

Why continuing with NFB is important and not just a sales pitch

Neurofeedback helps reorganize the brain. This is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of repairing a brain damaged by concussion. Even increasing oxygenation, improving inflammation and balancing hormones will NOT necessarily lead to the brain organizing itself properly.

Neurofeedback allows the guiding of neuroplasticity so we can precisely steer the brain back to where it was.

Without neurofeedback, full recovery is typically not possible.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need to pass out or blackout to get a concussion?

No, losing consciousness is estimated to only happen in less than 10% of concussions.

If you have whiplash do you also have a concussion?

Structure of the human body showing whiplash like neck injuries.

If you have had a concussion, you probably have whiplash as well, very rarely do you sustain a concussion with your head completely stable. It takes 95 Gz of force to cause an injury to the brain, but it only takes 4 Gz to potentially receive a neck injury. So you can get whiplash and not have a concussion, but if you have a concussion, you probably will have whiplash.

I hit the side of my head on my table mildly hard, could I get a concussion?

You likely wouldn’t have a “concussion” although it would be considered a sub-concussive blow or head injury. It is possible that you can experience symptoms if there are other underlying problems going on.

Is there a cure for a traumatic brain injury? How close has science come if they haven’t?

Short answer, no. Curing a condition involves the need for a single treatment that is successful 100% of the time, no questions asked. Because TBI is so complex, no one treatment is successful 100% of the time in all individuals. This is why the approach to concussion is complex and best navigated with a competent practitioner by your side.

Is it possible to get a concussion from falling hard and not hitting your head at all?

Yes. Especially if there was any whip in the neck/shoulders. A neck injury typically equals a head injury, although it may not be enough to be considered a full-blown concussion, it could contribute to long-term symptoms.

I have had multiple concussions in the past, and my memory is now starting to become slowly harder to use, and my arms are constantly tingling, is this normal?

This is not normal to be persisting, however, it could have been triggered by the head injuries. It is important to be assessed and repaired ASAP to prevent any further damage from occurring.

What is the biggest misconception about concussions?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that once you are symptom-free you are 100% better. Looking for simple symptom recovery without ensuring other underlying issues aren’t persisting is a recipe for disaster and will increase your susceptibility to another concussion down the road. 

Another misconception is that you have to hit your head to get a concussion. A very fast acceleration, deceleration (including whiplash) can be enough to incur a concussion.

Before a minor concussion, I had regular headaches, but the headaches have changed (it used to be a foggy type of pain but has now become sharp and changed position). Should I be concerned?

This may be cause for concern and should be assessed by CT or MRI, EEG and an upper cervical Chiropractor immediately.

What happens to the brain during a concussion?

Diagram of what happens to the brain during a traumatic brain injury.

The brain experiences acceleration and deceleration forces which causes it to bounce around in the skull (known as coup and counter-coup injuries). This causes shearing (or breaking) of white matter that is like the wiring of the brain and causes the death of brain cells, inflammation and many more physiological interruptions.

What can worsen a concussion?

Anything that increases or induces stress. This could be physical, biochemical, toxic, emotional, mental, occupational, spiritual, or sociocultural.

Why can chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) only be diagnosed post-mortem? What kind of technology do we need to develop in order to diagnose it while the patients are still alive?

CTE requires a brain biopsy to diagnose which is considered ethically immoral to do pre-mortem. Damaging the brain to try to assess CTE damage is not a good idea. We need to develop a marker that can be picked up in blood or cerebrospinal fluid (requires a spinal tap) that is associated with CTE before it can be officially diagnosed post-mortem.

Is my decline of intelligence after a concussion due to me forgetting what I learned or am I not capable of understanding what I learned anymore?

It’s important to distinguish between intelligence and cognition. It is likely that you are experiencing a decrease in cognition meaning focus, attention, and memory storage/retrieval is being affected.

It is more likely that you are experiencing difficulties understanding, focusing, storing or retrieving memories. It is likely your IQ would not have changed much.

Is it true that you are more likely to get a concussion after having one? What advice would you give to someone who had a concussion who has a crippling fear of getting another one?

Yes and no. There is a sensitivity period between 8 and 12 weeks after a concussion where you will be highly susceptible to getting another concussion. If it occurs within hours of the first one there is even a high chance of death (called second impact syndrome).

Also, if you have had a concussion and you simply wait to get better without actively doing anything to assess or improve it then you will be at risk for getting another one.

However, if you go through a proper assessment and ensure you are repairing all the imbalances that occurred following the concussion, your risk of getting another is close to that before the initial concussion.

Conclusion

If you are suffering from a concussion, selecting a concussion clinic in Calgary that not only treats your concussion but treats your body as a whole with a combination of approaches may be necessary. At the core of the problem is an injury to the brain which requires brain based solutions.

Reclaim your life after a concussion

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