I am mostly an authority on my own brain injury and recovery, although I have been in many brain injury support groups, and have treated people with TBI and PTSD as part of my massage therapy practice. I have been discovering how to recover for 43 years, on my own, because there were no brain injury rehab units in 1970. And doctors did not believe the adult brain could heal from the massive damage I sustained. That belief has shifted, and doctors as well as people with brain injury are now benefiting from the marvelous insights of neuroscience and mind-body medicine into the brain’s neuroplasticity.
Brain injury comes from several causes. Head trauma, TBI such as from a fall, or a motor vehicle accident, or impact injury or military trauma are what most people think of. There is also: stroke; vascular events where the brain is deprived of oxygen; birth trauma; brain tumors; chemical or pesticide exposure; “chemo brain” after radiation and chemotherapy; drug or alcohol abuse; anesthesia, or side effects of other medications.
Brain injury can manifest as different symptoms and functional impairments. Loss of use of motor control over a hand, arm, or leg; walking and gait challenges; balance and fall risk; coordination; impaired thinking and cognition; memory loss, either short-term or long term; impaired speech, vision, hearing, or comprehension; sensory impairment; mood swings, emotional turmoil; inability to plan or reason; loss of social skills: each of us is different. You may have functional skill sets that survived intact, that allow you to work, while someone else may have to relearn everything as if from infancy. Some people have loving, supportive families and extended community networks that make an irreplaceable difference in recovery. Some have insurance. some have none, or only marginal financial resources or are homeless. Some people have personality characteristics that help them heal, of doggedness, determination, strength of character, intelligence, motivation to succeed, good habits, ability to adapt to change, a compassionate and generous heart, or an inclination to meditate or pray. Some have none of these inner resources. Some had a sense of purposelessness or hopelessness, or were addicted to drugs or alcohol at the time of a brain injury and now have even fewer strengths to support their recovery.
In my experience, belief, faith, determination, inner resourcefulness and an outer support network are all crucial.
How does massage and bodywork help with brain injury recovery? The first few months after a TBI are more likely to be times of intensive rehabilitation, and are not usually the time massage and bodywork can show the greatest benefit. There are too many other issues that need to be addressed first. After the acute phase is over, or any time that emotional states and pain become barriers for rehab, massage and bodywork are useful to add to a rehab program. They are well known to decrease pain, anxiety and depression. The relaxation, sense of ease, and willingness to accept comfort increases the parasympathetic “rest and digest” state that allows the body and brain to heal. They release muscle tension. And, more importantly, they can diminish the guarding reflexes, the hyper-vigilance, and increase emotional resilience.
I am not a doctor. Nothing in these pages should be construed as offering medical advice.