I’m getting referrals for craniosacral therapy for people who have had concussions, and I want to help these folks heal. Not knowing what a doctor may (or may not — especially ER docs who are most concerned about intracranial bleeding and not aftercare) have told them, I’m providing information here that may help those with injured brains recover more quickly.
People who’ve had concussions may report these symptoms: pain, dizziness or vertigo, balance issues, gait or coordination disturbance, vision changes, sensitivity to light and sound, language problems, confusion, lack of focus, forgetfulness, nausea, sleepiness, and/or emotional problems.
To clarify the language, concussions may also be called mild TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). People can get concussions from an impact, from being shaken (like shaken baby syndrome), or from being near an explosion (IEDs in war zones make this a tragic problem for many veterans).
To help you visualize what happens in a concussion, imagine your brain is like jello inside a closed hard container (the cranium) cushioned by a thin layer of water (cerebrospinal fluid), with substantial membranes (the meninges) separating the major parts (the hemispheres and the cerebrum and cerebellum, not shown in the image below).
A major impact slams the brain around inside the cranium, damaging brain tissue. Research points to the corpus callosum, which connects and coordinates the left and right hemispheres, receiving the most damage from concussions.
After a concussion, most people recover most or all of their abilities — within few weeks for some, or after a year or so for others. The healing period is likely related to the severity of the injury, the state of your health at the time, whether you’ve had previous concussions (perhaps from early childhood falls or undiagnosed), whether you got quick and appropriate treatment, and your self-care afterward.
There is a statistical link between experiencing concussions and accelerating the mental decline of Alzheimer’s disease in those already at risk for Alzheimer’s (known through family history or genetic testing).
Here’s how to take care of yourself after a concussion to encourage healing and possibly prevent serious health issues down the road.
Let others help you, because you may be disoriented, less capable, ill, and more. You may need someone to drive you to appointments, sub for you at work, help with the kids, or frequently check in with you. Call on your friends, family, and whatever communities you belong to.
Your brain is very sensitive to dehydration, and after a concussion, measuring how much you actually drink is important, just to make sure you’re getting enough fluid for your brain to operate as well as it can. Go for half your body weight in ounces of clean water each day. (If you weight 150 lbs., drink 75 ounces.) Start each day with a big glass of water. Here’s more about hydration.
Take an Epsom salt bath.
Soak every night to relax, relieve muscle pain, and absorb magnesium, the most vital mineral for brain health, through your skin. Magnesium levels (often deficient already) drop sharply after a concussion, so getting enough is important. Add two cups of Epsom salt to warm or hot water and soak for 12-15 minutes. Soaking does not have a laxative effect. Most grocery stores carry Epsom salt, and if you have the storage space, you can buy it in bulk from Amazon and save. Add essential oils to your bath water if you wish. You may wish to take magnesium threonate as a supplement instead of or in addition to Epsom salt baths (link below).
Concussions rapidly deplete your levels of vital nutrients in an attempt to recover brain health and function. To provide the building blocks for a better recovery, take these supplements in these amounts daily, starting as soon as possible after a concussion until you feel recovered. These are high dosages to support the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and glutathione, two nutrients your body makes that recover brain function and reduce inflammation, and to help your neurotransmitters carry signals between brain cells.
- creatine (10 g) is a protein that provides energy for the brain
- N-Acetyl-Cysteine (1-5 g) helps your body produce glutathione, the master anti-oxidant that protects cells from damage
- fish oil (4,000 mg) greatly reduces inflammation
- a Vitamin B complex supplement is easier than taking separate B2, B3, B6, B12 (methylcobalimin), and folate (not folic acid), all of which reduce inflammation
- Vitamin C (1,000 mg) helps your body produce glutathione
- Vitamin D3 (5,000 IUs) improves cognitive function, helps with neurotransmitter production, and reduces inflammation
- magnesium threonate (2 g) permeates the brain, increases BDNF, helps with memory, and does not have a laxative effect
- zinc (50 mg) improves memory, reduces inflammation, and helps with neurotransmitter production
- curcumin raises BDNF production and is anti-inflammatory
If you are on a budget, I would focus on these three: N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC), fish oil, and curcumin, and get the protein, vitamins, and minerals from nutrient-dense foods, Epsom salt baths, and sunshine.
Eat a ketogenic diet.
Going ketogenic (high in fats, moderate protein, low carbs) helps with recovering brain health. This diet was developed to help children with epilepsy and is considered to be very beneficial for brain health. Being low in carbs and high in healthy fats, the ketogenic diet is also an anti-inflammatory diet. Eat these beneficial foods: eggs from pastured chickens, wild salmon, sardines in olive oil, coconut oil, real olive oil, walnuts, tomatoes, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, avocados, and wild blueberries (all organic if possible). Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar, trans fats, seed oils, fried and processed foods, factory-farmed meats and fish, grains, legumes, and other fruits and juices. If nausea is a problem, try a protein shake (possibly adding some of the supplements and foods listed above). If you have a digestive health issue, consult a nutritionist or doctor before going keto.
Rest and resume activity as you are able.
In the first few days after a concussion, rest from strenuous mental or physical exertion and avoid additional stress.
- Get someone else to drive you until you feel up to it.
- Do one thing at a time. Do nothing, as well.
- After 3 or 4 days, doing simple cognitive tasks such as playing games may help your nervous system rebalance. Don’t make major decisions without guidance.
- Move your body slowly and gently at first: walk or do qigong or gentle yoga. Start with what you can tolerate. Always stop if symptoms return.
- As soon as you become able, work up to more intense exercise, which increases your body’s production of BDNF.
- Cross-lateral movement (walking, crawling, marching in place, etc.) helps get your hemispheres working together and increases coordination.
- Practice balancing on one foot as you are able.
Exercise your senses.
These will help you and your supporters monitor your recovery and can help relieve the anxiety and emotional volatility that often accompany concussions.
- Look at soothing images.
- Listen to nature sounds, soothing music, guided meditations.
- Receive touch. Notice your body sensations.
- Engage your sense of smell with essential oils, herbs, flowers, and food.
- Really taste your food.
Monitor your memory.
As you go about your post-concussion life, you and your supporters will become aware of how well or poorly your memory is working. Memory can return slowly after a concussion, so be patient. Making lists and setting up reminders can help. Ask for help if you need it. If you want to track your daily post-concussion self-care activities on paper, here is a habit tracker you can print.
Do lymphatic drainage.
This simple self-care technique helps your lymphatic system remove metabolic waste products and toxins from the injured brain. The discovery of lymphatic vessels in the brain is recent. This video shows how to do the basic technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QA-wi0d7-Ro
Practice alternate nostril breathing.
This is an ancient technique from India taught in yoga and pranayama classes. It is said to help balance the left and right brain hemispheres. Nostril openness is connected to the opposite brain hemisphere, and it switches throughout the day. This daily practice may be a way to improve the functioning of the corpus callosum, which connects the hemispheres. In my experience and that of many others, alternate nostril breathing is calming and balancing. Here’s how to do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbbr6Udg1UA
Make an appointment for craniosacral therapy.
The more quickly you can come in for craniosacral therapy after a concussion, the more quickly you can recover. It can help your nervous system become more balanced and relax more deeply, which facilitates healing. Depending on your craniosacral therapist’s skills and your needs, they may add lymphatic drainage, massage, and energy work as needed in your sessions.
If your doctor writes a letter of medical necessity for craniosacral therapy, health insurance or an employer’s health savings account may reimburse you if you request receipts. The cost may also be partially or wholly reimbursed through worker’s comp for on-the-job injuries or personal injury protection for auto accidents.
Note: I am not a doctor, just a geeky health-oriented craniosacral therapist who wants to be of excellent service to my clients in Austin, Texas, and to anyone anywhere seeking useful information for self-care after a concussion. I used multiple credible sources of information available online to compile this post.
If you have anything to add or enlighten me about, please comment!
Update 9/10/18: Here’s a new resource with recommendations for concussion treatment: https://braininjuryguidelines.org/concussion/.