You don't have to receive a blow to the head to suffer from brain injury. In fact, you can even injure your brain while wearing a helmet. This is because brain tissue is very delicate - the consistency of soft butter or egg white - and floats inside a skull lined with hard ridges. Impacts to the body, falls, and neck injuries are all it takes to injure the brain, especially if they happen repeatedly.
Here are some ways you can sustain a brain injury without ever hitting your head:
Hard falls: When you fall your brain slams into one side of your skull and then the other. People who engage in activities that involve falling and crashing regularly (football, extreme sports, roller derby, etc.) should be aware of signs of brain injury, even if they wear a helmet.
Body slams (such as in contact sports): Likewise, full impact hits to the body knock the brain around inside the skull.
Landing on your tailbone: Although landing on your tailbone results in a sore bum, your brain is also victim to the force sent up the spine.
Whiplash: Whiplash is a double whammy to the brain, which is why car accidents can be so devastating even if you didn't directly injure your head. Not only does the whiplash send the brain crashing back and forth inside the skull, but the shearing and twisting forces in the neck can also damage the brain stem. The brain stem may look simply like the connection between the brain and the neck, its an extremely important center of brain function. Damage to the brain stem can cause anxiety, insomnia, extreme moodiness, gut problems, autonomic problems, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and crowds.
Falls and crashes also damage the fragile inner ear, or vestibular system, which plays a vital role in brain function and integrity.
The reason football players and extreme athletes are making headlines is because repeated impacts to the body and head continually inflame and damage the brain, overwhelming its ability to recover until it eventually succumbs to dementia and Alzheimer's.
Brain injury increases risk for more brain injury
One of the most prominent signs of brain injury is worsened balance and coordination. Unfortunately, these symptoms predispose a person to further injure their brain due to increased clumsiness. Just one concussion increases the risk of a second by 150 percent. After two concussions, your risk for a third goes up by 300 percent. This is why it's so important to seek functional neurology and functional medicine interventions right away when you suspect you have injured your brain.
Poor brain health increases brain injury risk
It's not just how many times your brain slams around inside your skull that matters, but also the general health of your brain prior to injury. This is why some people recover more quickly from injury than others. If you eat fast foods regularly, are deficient in vital brain nutrients - such as essential fatty acids and vitamin D have undiagnosed food sensitivities (especially to gluten), or suffer from hormonal imbalances or deficiencies, your brain is going to fare more poorly after an injury.
Because inflammation in the brain does not have an "off switch" the way it does in the body, brain inflammation is like a slow moving fire that can damage tissue for months and even years, causing symptoms long after the insults.
The good news is that for all its fragility, the brain is an amazing organ when it comes to recovery and repair. It will eagerly respond to functional neurology and functional medicine protocols to improve function, dampen disorders, and enhance its overall integrity.
Ask my office how we can help you get back your brain health and function. You can call us at (317) 848-6000 or you can contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How your inner ear can influence your emotions
We tend to think of our emotions as being strictly tied to our psychology and personality — some people are highly emotional and others are not. But did you know your inner can profoundly affect your emotions? Our inner ear, called the vestibular system, is integrated with the eyes and the brain to tell you where you are in space and is integral to survival, safety, and attention. This system is a labyrinth of the semi-circular positioned in right angles to each other so they can perceive motion in three-dimensional space. You engage your vestibular system when you turn your head, change positions, look one direction while moving in another, balance on one leg, ride a bike, and so on. The vestibular system also plays a role in integrating gravity, acceleration, and deceleration. In summary, the vestibular system works with your eyes and your brain to keep your body stable and aware of where it is in the environment around it. Imagine driving while holding a glass of water and how accelerating, driving at an even speed, stopping, and turning affect the water in the glass. This is somewhat how the vestibular system, which contains fluid and sensory hair cells, works to deliver information to the brain.
When the vestibular system isn’t working well
Unfortunately, the inner ear can be quite fragile and vulnerable to damage from concussions, micro-traumas to the brain, and whiplash. Many people have vestibular system damage or disorders that they are not aware of. Some hallmarks of vestibular problems include poor balance, dizziness, and being easily prone to motion sickness. When the inner ear canals are damaged, information from the vestibular system does not coordinate properly with information from the eyes and the body. This causes neurological confusion and resulting symptoms. A poorly functioning cerebellum also plays a role in vestibular dysfunction. The cerebellum is the area at the base of the brain — it works closely with the vestibular system and is integral to balance and coordination.
How inner ear problems cause emotional problems
When your vestibular system is damaged, or when there is dysfunctional coordination between the inner ear and the cerebellum, your sense of balance and stability are affected. The body ultimately perceives this as a stressor. Typically, vestibular dysfunction is too subtle for most people to notice. Yet it nevertheless creates a sense of neurological confusion the brain and body perceive as chronically and subtly terrifying, thus putting the survival system on red alert and raising stress hormones. People who have experienced anxiety after being on a roller coaster or from spinning may understand this connection
Emotions are governed by an area of the brain called the limbic system, and extensive networks exist between the vestibular and the limbic system. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people diagnosed with vestibular disorders to report they are not themselves emotionally.
Rehabilitating the inner ear for healthier emotions
Researchers are able to impact a person’s depression, anxiety, and other emotional states by activating and rehabilitating the vestibular system, lending further weight to the connection between the inner ear and emotions. Fortunately, functional neurology is well grounded in the examination of the vestibular system, identifying dysfunction, and creating customized exercises to help you rehabilitate your vestibular system and brain. This can bring not only relief from physical signs and symptoms, but it can also lower anxiety and relieve emotional symptoms. Ask my office for more information.