Concussion is a brain injury caused by a blow to the head, or forceful shaking of the body and unfortunately, is more common then we may realize. It can be the result of a sports injury, motor vehicle accident or any other fall or accident. You do not have to lose consciousness to get a concussion and may even have a concussion without realizing it. Symptoms can include headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, insomnia and fatigue. These symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe and can occur immediately or as a delayed response. These symptoms can be more prolonged and severe with multiple concussions.
The current medical approach to treatment is rest both physical and mental and over the counter pain relief such as Acetaminophen. Rest is important, as well as a thorough examination by an MD that may include a CT scan or an MRI. Many of these symptoms may disappear on their own or may become sub-clinical, meaning there may be no recognizable signs and symptoms now, but may show up later in life as mental clarity and thought processing issues, mood disorders, migraines, and a multitude of other problems involving cognitive functioning. They are currently linking exposure to concussive force (such as a grenade, or other head trauma) to PTSD in veterans of war.
In my clinic I have observed, with both adults and children, problems with concentration and mood, both immediately and years after the incident. I also have had many patients report to me that they “just don’t feel like themselves”, or have anxiety. Though important, I really don’t think rest and over the counter pain relief is enough. Clinically, I have observed the difference that Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal medicine, massage, and Chiropractic work can make with these cases. These modalities can rectify the flow of blood in the brain after trauma. With any traumatic injury there is an inflammatory response that occurs. This is normally a good thing, sending nutrients to the area to help it heal. In many cases of traumatic injury, however, after the inflammatory response is over there is a lot of “debris” (old blood cells, and sometimes lymph) left behind. In Chinese Medicine we call this blood stagnation. It is literally stagnant, de-oxygenated, nutrient void blood, and inflammation. It is not nourishing the area (in this case the brain), and is preventing fresh, nutrient rich blood from getting to the area to help the tissue heal. This is also why an old injury can cause problems later on in life if not properly treated. The lack of circulation degrades the area over time.
There are many excellent Chinese herbs for improving circulation. We usually use several different herbs at a time in a formula. Xue Fu Zhu Yu tang and Tong xiao huo xue tang are two of my favorite formulas for improving circulation in the upper body and head. They can be combined with other formulas, or single herbs to address additional concerns that may go along with concussion such as anxiety, PTSD, fear etc…These formulas are chosen based on pattern differentiation after a thorough assessment of each patient and therefore may be different for each patient.
Acupuncture is extremely helpful also. The insertion of local and distal, (away from the area), needles are important for circulation as well and work synergistically with herbal medicine creating the best possible outcome when used together. Acupuncture also has an analgesic (“anlˈjēzik” pain relieving) effect that is welcomed with lingering pain and headaches. Acupuncture has also been shown through fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) measures brain activity) to have an effect on the brain via the nerves/acupuncture channels. For example, when a needle is inserted into GB 37 (an acupuncture point used for vision problems) it modulates activity in the vision related cortex of the brain. The same can be said for other acupuncture points involving mood and memory.
Massage therapy, like Acupuncture, not only feels great but manually gets in there and gets the blood moving to release trigger points and other myofascial restrictions. I have seen chiropractic work be helpful as well. With the force needed to cause concussion it is almost certain that some vertebrae will be out of alignment. Putting these vertebrae back in alignment is important for proper nerve function and releasing muscle tension. When everything is in the proper place our blood flows better.
While it is important to seek medical attention after injuries that would cause a concussion Chinese herbal medicine, Acupuncture, Massage, and Chiropractic treatments can not only help with relief of symptoms such as pain, headaches, confusion, and mood issues but can also prevent these from being a recurring problem in the future. I think it is also nice to know that we have other options for treatment other than rest and pills.