Post-concussion self-care

I’m getting referrals for craniosacral therapy for people who have had concussions, and I want to help these folks recover. Not knowing what a doctor may have told them but knowing how busy most doctors are, I am providing information here that may help injured brains recover more quickly. If your doctor tells you something different, listen.

People who’ve had concussions may report experiencing pain, dizziness or vertigo, balance issues, vision changes, speech problems, confusion, lack of focus, forgetfulness, nausea, sleepiness, emotional problems, and perhaps other symptoms.

To be clear on the language, concussions are also called mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

To simplify, imagine your brain is like jello inside a closed container (cranium) cushioned by a thin layer of water (cerebrospinal fluid), with substantial membranes separating the major parts (hemispheres, cerebrum and cerebellum). A major impact slams the brain around inside the cranium, damaging brain tissue. Some research points to the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres, receiving the most damage from concussions.

Most people recover most or all of their abilities — within few weeks for some, or after year or so for others. The healing period is likely related to the state of your health at the time, the severity of the injury, whether you’ve had previous concussions, and getting quick and appropriate treatment.

Here’s how to take care of yourself after concussion to speed your recovery:

  1. Get support. 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, keep an eye on you or regularly check in with you, and more. Call on your friends, family, and whatever communities you belong to.
  2. Stay hydrated. Your brain is very sensitive to dehydration, and after a concussion, measuring how much you actually drink is important, to make sure you’re getting enough fluid. Go for half your body weight in ounces of clean, healthy water (not tap water if you can avoid it) each day. (If you weight 150, drink 75 ounces.) Start your day with a big glass of water. Here’s more about hydration.
  3. Take an Epsom salt bath 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. Most grocery and drug stores carry Epsom salt. Add essential oils if you wish. You may wish to take magnesium threonate instead of or in addition to Epsom salt baths (link below).
  4. Supplements: 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 concussion and until you feel recovered. These are high dosages to support your body’s production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and glutathione, essential nutrients for reducing inflammation and recovering brain function, and help with neurotransmitters which carry signals between neurons.
    • creatine (10 g) provides energy for the brain to start recovering
    • N-Acetyl-Cysteine (1-5 g) helps your body produce glutathione
    • fish oil (4,000 mg) greatly reduces inflammation
    • a Vitamin B complex supplement is easier than taking separate B2, B3, B6, B12, and folate, 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
  5. Diet: Go ketogenic (high in fats, moderate protein, low carbs), adding extra protein for recovering brain health. The ketogenic 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: pastured eggs, wild salmon, sardines in olive oil, coconut oil, olive oil, walnuts, tomatoes, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, avocados, and wild blueberries (all organic if possible). Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar, trans fats and 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).
  6. Activity:
    • 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.
    • 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, marching in place, etc.) helps get your hemispheres working together. Even eye movements (left-right, circles, sideways figure 8s) can help.
    • Practice balancing on one foot as you are able.
  7. Use your senses: sight (soothing images), sound (nature sounds, soothing music, guided meditations), touch (massage, foot rubs), smell (essential oils, herbs), taste (really taste your food).
  8. As you go about your post-concussion life, you 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. Family members and friends can help. If you want to track your daily post-concussion self-care activities on paper, I like this habit tracker.
  9. Do lymphatic drainage for your head. This helps your lymphatic system remove metabolic waste products from the injured brain.
  10. Do alternate nostril breathing to help balance the left and right brain hemispheres. This technique comes from the ancient Indian tradition of pranayama. I haven’t heard of any science behind it, but in my experience and that of many others, it is calming and balancing.
  11. Get craniosacral therapy to help with recovery. The more quickly you come in after a concussion, the more quickly you can recover. If your doctor writes a letter of medical necessity for craniosacral therapy, your health insurance, worker’s comp for on-the-job injuries, personal injury protection for auto accidents, or your employer’s health savings account may reimburse you.

Note: I am not a doctor, just a geeky health-oriented craniosacral therapist who wants to be of service to my clients and to anyone seeking useful information after concussion. I used multiple reputable (in my opinion) sources of information available online to compile this list. If you have anything to add or enlighten me about, please comment.

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