What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a form of acquired brain injury that occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain and affects how the brain works.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, an estimated 5.3 million people in the U.S. live with disabilities due to a TBI. Yet, to generalize all traumatic brain injury survivors into one category would be an injustice. Classifying TBIs is a complex, multi-faceted process. The British Journal of Medicine’s Best Practice instructs healthcare providers to evaluate TBIs by type, severity, location, cause, and the body’s physical response to injury.
The complexity of evaluation equates to each traumatic brain injury being as unique as each survivor.
Types and Causes of TBI
Physicians classify TBIs into two broad types: traumatic and non-traumatic.
Traumatic Brain injuries are caused by blunt force head trauma, penetrating objects, and blast injuries. Falls and car accidents are the two top causes of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). However, the most common type of brain injury is a concussion.
Non-traumatic injuries are caused by internal forces that cause damage to the brain, such as a lack of oxygen or increased pressure on the brain. Common causes of non-traumatic brain injuries are strokes, seizures, infections, and near-fatal drownings. However, some closed-head injuries are more insidious, like tumors and aneurysms, which slowly develop over time.
Traditional Medicine Treatments
Traditional traumatic brain injury treatments include diagnostic imaging, pharmaceuticals, and specialized brain rehabilitation therapies.
Diagnostic imaging is crucial in determining whether a patient has a mild traumatic brain injury or a more severe brain injury, especially when there are no visual signs of head trauma.
Computed tomography (CT) scan is the most commonly used imaging modality for TBI. CT imaging uses X-rays to create detailed images of the brain. CT scans can detect fractures, bleeding, and swelling, which can help guide traumatic brain injury treatment decisions.
Next, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is another imaging modality used to evaluate TBI. Unlike CT scans, MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed brain images. MRI is particularly useful in detecting subtle changes in brain tissue, such as a bruised brain or damage to the white matter.
In addition to CT scans and MRIs, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) is a highly-specialized imaging test that uses a small amount of radioactive material to diagnose and manage traumatic brain injury. According to Dr. Daniel Amen, SPECT scans allow physicians to look deep inside the brain to observe three things: (1) Areas of the brain that work well, (2) Areas of the brain that work too hard, and (3) Areas of the brain that do not work hard enough.
Finally, diagnostic imaging does not provide a diagnosis, instead, the imaging aids physicians in creating an effective plan of care, that includes pharmaceutics and specialized brain rehabilitation therapies, that would most benefit the traumatic brain injury survivor.
While many medications are available to TBI survivors, we will focus on the most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals: anti-seizure, anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety drugs.
Seizures, whether from Epilepsy or as a result of a traumatic brain injury, must be controlled to prevent further brain injury. Anti-seizure medications aim to help control seizure activity without unwanted side effects. If you want a more detailed understanding of how anti-seizure medication works, click here to watch a short video.
Many TBI survivors suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Physicians prescribe anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications that work to balance chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Furthermore, it is crucial to incorporate mental health counseling while using anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications to develop healthy coping skills specific to your neurodiversity.
Specialized Brain Rehabilitation Therapies
Most TBI survivors receive one or more specialized brain rehabilitation therapies (SBRT), such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, to regain or improve skill sets affected by their traumatic brain injury.
The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAUSA) estimates nearly half of all TBI patients experience vestibular impairments, like dizziness, vertigo, and feeling off-balanced. Still, there is hope physical therapists trained in vestibular therapy evaluate the deficits created by traumatic brain injury and craft an individual treatment plan that helps body movements become fluid and balanced.
Another SBRT utilized by many TBI survivors is occupational therapy (OT). OT focuses on cognitive rehabilitation, which helps patients live more independently and accomplish goals such as the ability to work, drive a car, cook for themselves, manage money, and participate in recreational activities. To learn more about the ways occupational therapy aids in cognitive rehabilitation, click here.
Two additional SBRTs used in traumatic brain injury recovery are speech therapy and neurolinguistics. First, in speech therapy, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) will test speech, language, and thinking abilities. Also, SLPs may evaluate a patient’s ability to swallow and eat. Furthermore, suppose the TBI stifles or inhibits speech; an SLP can provide augmented or alternative communication tools, such as picture books or computer-based technologies. Second, neurolinguistics is the study of how the brain processes language. It examines the neural mechanisms behind language acquisition, comprehension and production, and how language is affected by brain injury. Finally, neurolinguistics examines language deficits such as aphasia and evaluates the effectiveness of therapy programs to improve language function.
Functional Medicine Treatments
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While Western medicine focuses on the physical body and symptom management, functional medicine (FM) is a patient-centered approach to chronic disease management. Functional medicine treatment approaches for TBI include nutritional support, dietary and herbal supplements like cannabis, clinical acupressure, and brain health coaching.
Nutritional, Dietary, and Herbal Support
Nutrition plays a critical role in traumatic brain injury recovery. Consuming a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and omega-3 fatty acids can aid in reducing inflammation, improving brain function, and promoting healing. Also, specialized diets, like an anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet, can help TBI survivors who have experienced a mild traumatic brain injury, like concussion, to improve symptoms.
In addition to nutritional support, focusing on natural products that are substances found in nature such as herbal products, botanicals including entheogens, and sacred medicines such as cannabis, psychedelics, vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and over-the-counter dietary supplements encapsulates FM’s approach to holistic care.
At Sage Integrative Wellness, we can support TBI survivors on their recovery journey through an integrative approach that includes both traditional and functional medicine approaches nutritional and herbal guidance; click here to book a discovery consultation.
Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that may help in the recovery of traumatic brain injury patients. Acupressure may help alleviate symptoms like headaches and dizziness and improve cognitive function by stimulating the body’s natural healing mechanisms and restoring balance to the body’s energy flow. Clinical acupressure is a gentle hand-mediated, touch-centered energy healing therapy that supports collaborative acupoints in the body to stimulate self-healing, spiritual growth, and physical, mental, emotional wellness through balancing chakras and meridians.
At Sage Integrative Wellness, we have a Certified Clinical Acupressure Practitioner; click here to book a free consultation.
Brain Health Coaching
Brain health coaching aims to improve cognitive function and overall brain health while providing traumatic brain injury survivors with the tools and strategies they need to optimize their neurodiverse brain function and prevent further cognitive decline.
One of the key components of brain health coaching is the assessment of an individual’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. A certified brain health coach will establish a cognitive profile through a series of questions. Once an individual’s cognitive profile has been determined, a brain health coach can work with the individual to develop a personalized plan to improve their brain health. This personalized plan may include a variety of strategies, such as diet and exercise, stress management techniques, and mental stimulation. Moreover, a certified brain health coach utilizes a neurodiversity approach to TBI, emphasizing the importance of understanding and accepting each TBI survivor’s unique strengths and challenges rather than focusing solely on deficits or impairments. Finally, acknowledging each traumatic brain injury creates unique neurodiversity, a certified brain health coach stresses the importance of providing support and accommodations tailored to the individual’s needs and abilities rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
At Sage Integrative Wellness, we have an Amen Clinics Certified Brain Health Coach and Nurse Coach Professional ready to assist you on your healing journey; click here to book a free consultation.
Support, Resources, and Awareness
TBI survivors need not to suffer in silence.
Whether a patient has been diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury or severe traumatic brain injury, recovery is a life-long process that is not linear. A strong support network is crucial to traumatic brain injury recovery. Last but not least, allowing others to care for you is an act of self-compassion.
Education and connection with fellow TBI survivors are essential for healing.
The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAUSA) has educational resources for traumatic brain injury survivors, caregivers, and healthcare professionals. Additionally, the BIAUSA created the #MoreThanMyBrainInjury campaign to raise brain injury awareness and allow TBI survivors to tell their unique TBI stories. Furthermore, the campaign provides TBI survivors and caregivers tips on speaking out in their communities, lobbying for legislation, and fundraising.
Suffering a TBI is as unique as you are, and you are not alone on this healing journey. With a combination of traditional and functional medicine treatments, we at Sage Integrative Wellness can provide holistic guidance and support on your health and wellness journey. Click here to get started on your traumatic brain injury healing journey today!
Nurse Author Dominique Fontaine, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, HWNC-BC is a double board certified holistic nurse, holistic medical content writer, and medical content reviewer for Sage Integrative Wellness, LLC, and various national and international wellness companies and media companies. Dominique offers holistic nurse consulting for businesses, media companies, and organizations in holistic medical content writing and medical content reviewing upon request. She’s a passionate neurodiverse nurse and disability advocate striving to transform healthcare and culture through brain health awareness, holistic education and research, and integrative nurse coaching.