Can you recover from a diffuse axonal injury? What does diffuse axonal injury recovery look like?
Diffuse axonal injuries are one of the most severe types of traumatic brain injury. This makes recovery more difficult, but not impossible.
To help you with your diffuse axonal injury recovery, we’re covering everything you need to know about these injuries, including the best treatment approaches.
Let’s get started!
What is Diffuse Axonal Injury?
You may have heard before that the brain is composed of both white matter and gray matter. But what are these substances?
Gray matter refers to all the nerve cells in the brain, whereas white matter is the connective fibers (called axons) that help the nerve cells communicate with each other.
Think of it as a computer. The gray matter is the computer itself, and the white matter is all the cables that help the computer run. You can’t have one without the other.
Now, how does this relate to diffuse axonal injuries?
During a DAI, the brain shakes or twists, which makes the white matter slide back and forth until the axons are actually torn.
Doctors call this axonal shearing. This shearing disrupts the messages that neurons send, resulting in loss of function.
Because most diffuse axonal injuries result in only microscopic tears, they can be hard to detect on an MRI.
What Causes Diffuse Axonal Injuries?
Any strong shaking or quick acceleration can lead to axonal shearing. Some of the most common causes of this are:
- Car accidents
- Sports injuries
- Domestic abuse
The more severe the event that causes the brain to shake, the more severe the tear in brain tissue will be.
Symptoms of Diffuse Axonal Injury
The primary symptom of diffuse axonal injury is loss of consciousness.
If the force on the brain shears too many axons, the person could fall into a coma.
Not everyone with a DAI will lose consciousness though. The other symptoms of this injury include common TBI symptoms, such as:
- Severe headaches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cognitive problems
- Loss of speech
Another side effect of diffuse axonal injury is a condition called dysautonomia.
Dysautonomia refers to a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system.
This is the part of the brain that controls unconscious bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, and breathing.
Symptoms of dysautonomia include:
- Low blood pressure
- Sensory issues
- Anxiety attacks
Can You Recover from Diffuse Axonal Injury?
A diffuse axonal injury affects many areas of the brain at once, which is what makes them more difficult to treat than other brain injuries.
The amount you recover from diffuse axonal injury depends on the severity of the injury itself.
Some DAIs are so severe the patient never regains consciousness.
But for those who regain consciousness within two weeks, their injury is relatively mild, and they have a good chance of making a full recovery!
In the more severe DAIs, recovery will be much harder, but even then you can still regain many functions thanks to the brain’s natural ability to heal itself.
This natural healing mechanism is known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity lets the brain rewire nerve cells and form new neural connections.
Since a DAI causes problems with communication between neurons, a significant aspect of diffuse axonal injury recovery will involve activating neuroplasticity to reform those neural connections.
Diffuse Axonal Injury Recovery
The best way to engage neuroplasticity and start making progress in your diffuse axonal injury recovery is through repetitious exercise.
The more you practice an action, such as walking after brain injury, the more your brain will create new neural pathways in response. When the brain forms enough neural pathways, the action will become much easier.
The good news is, during the first few months after a brain injury, the brain is in a heightened state of plasticity. Which means you’ll be able to make great strides in your recovery.
This is why it’s so important to start rehabilitation as soon as possible after your injury.
For the best results, try to incorporate the following therapies into your diffuse axonal injury recovery plan.
Physical therapy helps you regain physical strength, coordination, and flexibility after diffuse axonal injury.
Not only that, it also increases blood flow to your brain, giving your brain the nutrients it needs to rebuild neural connections.
All of this makes physical therapy extremely important during diffuse axonal injury recovery.
If your diffuse axonal injury has affected your ability to speak, begin speech therapy right away.
A speech therapist can walk you through the many TBI speech therapy activities available, and show you precisely what you need to do to retrain your brain and regain language skills.
In addition, speech therapists can teach you the more subtle aspects of communication that you might struggle with after DAI, such as matching your voice pitch and volume with others and learning how to begin and end a conversation.
Recreational therapy activities help a person relearn essential skills in a way that engages both their mind and body.
The skills recreational therapy targets involve every aspect of a person’s life, including motor skills, cognitive functioning, and social skills.
These activities can be a fun alternative to traditional physical therapy, especially if you are struggling to motivate yourself to continue exercising.
Occupational therapy will help you regain the ability to perform activities of daily living after your injury.
Some examples of activities of daily living include:
- Getting dressed
After a diffuse axonal injury, these basic activities can be challenging, if not impossible for you. Occupational therapy helps you relearn the physical and mental skills needed to perform them and get back your independence.
The cognitive effects of a diffuse axonal injury can be the toughest issues to deal with.
Luckily, you can treat these issues through cognitive therapy.
This therapy uses various cognitive rehabilitation exercises designed to improve memory, attention, learning, and several other cognitive skills.
So Can You Recover From Diffuse Axonal Injury? Yes!
Diffuse axonal injury is a serious condition and one of the most severe forms of traumatic brain injury.
But as with all brain injuries, the key to making a good recovery lies in activating neuroplasticity through therapeutic exercises.
The brain is a remarkably adaptable organ, and even if it’s been heavily damaged, there is always the potential for improvement.