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The Ultimate Guide to Mild TBI Recovery

man rubbing head and holding glass of water which will help with his mild TBI recovery

Mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) is often more serious than people realize. If the proper steps are not taken, the person can experience symptoms for months, sometimes years, after their injury.

That’s why it is crucial to take the right approach to mild TBI recovery from the beginning. With a good treatment plan, you can give your brain the tools it needs to heal successfully from mild TBI.

Definition and Symptoms of Mild TBI

A mild TBI refers to a bump or blow to the head that disrupts brain function and results in a loss of consciousness that lasts less than 30 minutes.

On the Glasgow Coma Scale, a mild TBI corresponds to a score of 13 or higher.

Some of the most common effects of mild traumatic brain injury are:

  • Poor concentration
  • Light sensitivity
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Headaches  
  • Dizziness/loss of balance
  • Depression

These symptoms are a normal part of mild TBI recovery and are not necessarily signs of permanent damage. They should subside as the brain heals.

Causes of Mild TBI Symptoms

If the force of impact is high enough, the brain will shake around inside the skull, causing damage. This damage is what provokes the mild TBI symptoms listed above. The types of brain damage that can occur during a mild TBI include:

  • Bruises. These are the least serious type of damage that a mild TBI can cause. Bruises on the brain will heal with time, and do not leave any lasting side effects.
  • Swelling. Some head injuries cause brain swelling, which takes longer to heal. If the swelling is severe enough, the brain tissue can push up against the skull, leading to more serious problems.
  • Torn nerve fibers. During a mild TBI, the nerve fibers that connect neurons together can snap, which means the different neurons can no longer communicate with each other. This causes memory problems and other side effects.

When to seek medical attention for mild TBI

Most minor head traumas will resolve on their own, but some can turn in to life-threatening conditions.

Seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness, even if only briefly
  • Seizures
  • Any amount of amnesia or loss of memory
  • For young children, any scalp swelling or unusual behavior, particularly uncontrollable crying.

Once you’ve been treated for any serious complications from your mild TBI, you can start working on your recovery.

Mild TBI Recovery Guidelines

Here are some steps that you can take to improve your recovery from mild TBI:

1. Pace Yourself

Mild TBI makes it difficult for a person to do their daily activities. That’s because the brain is devoting most of its energy to healing itself, and can’t focus much on anything else.

Therefore, the best thing you can do to promote recovery from mild TBI is to pace yourself.

Do not go back immediately to work or school or try to push through your symptoms. Pushing yourself too hard will worsen your symptoms and could halt recovery.

Instead, try resting from all mental and physical exertions for at least a week, and then gradually return to your routine.

In addition to pacing yourself, here are a few other tips to help make your mild TBI recovery a success.

2. Recuperate the Brain with Sleep

woman sleeping to promote her mild TBI recovery

Sleep is a restorative state that allows your brain to recover from stress and consolidate new memories and information.

Since your brain needs to spend its energy on healing itself without distraction, this makes sleep one of the most important parts of mild TBI recovery.

You may have heard that it is dangerous to fall asleep after a head injury, but this is actually a myth.

As long as a person’s eyes are not dilated and they have already had a CT scan to rule out a hematoma, feel free to let them sleep.

Sometimes insomnia or other TBI sleep disorders can make it hard for individuals with mild TBIs to sleep. If this is the case for you, ask your doctor about taking melatonin supplements.

Melatonin can reset your brain’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that tells your body when to sleep.

3. Consider Low Impact Exercise

woman tying shoes getting ready to jog, which will help with her mild TBI recovery

Moderate exercise, especially low impact exercise, is crucial for mild TBI recovery.

This might seem like a contradiction of the advice above. And indeed, during the first few days of recovery, you should avoid exertion.

But once you have rested enough, doctors recommend slowly returning to light exercise. Studies show that low impact exercise, such as brisk walking, reduce symptoms of nausea and dizziness in mild TBI patients and shortens recovery time.

That’s because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, bringing it the vital nutrients it needs to heal.  

Just be careful not to overexert yourself. If exercise seems to worsen your symptoms, take a break. Only start exercising when you feel strong enough to.

4. Hydrate

man drinking water bottle

Dehydration makes your brain cells function less efficiently, which impairs the brain’s ability to repair itself.

Therefore, to promote a healthy recovery from mild TBI, try to drink at least 500 ml of water per day.

You should also keep your alcohol intake to a minimum, at least for the first few days after your injury. Alcohol contains neurotoxins that damage brain cells and can slow your brain’s healing process

5. Eat Brain-Boosting Foods

platter of food for mild TBI recovery

Make sure you consume foods that heal the brain after concussion, such as those rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. These will stimulate your brain’s production of new nerve cells and accelerate the healing process.

Some foods that promote recovery include:

  • blueberries
  • avocados
  • walnuts
  • fatty fish such as salmon and trout

The more of these foods you eat, the more fuel your brain will have to repair itself.

Whiplash vs. Mild TBI

Most mild TBI symptoms should subside within a month. If it’s been more than a month, and you are not seeing any improvement, you may be experiencing the effects of whiplash.

Whiplash and mild traumatic brain injury have identical symptoms.  In fact, one study compared whiplash patients with mild traumatic brain injury patients and found no difference in cognitive deficits between the two groups.

Both groups had the same problems with headaches, attention, memory, and visual-spatial function.

Fortunately, whiplash is easily remedied with massage therapy and manual manipulation.

If nothing else seems to work for you, it might be worth consulting with a professional massage therapist to rule out whiplash and other neck issues that could be causing you problems.

Recovering from Mild TBI

As difficult as the effects of mild TBI are, you should not worry. Most people will make a full recovery, as long as they don’t overexert themselves.   

If you allow yourself enough rest, stay hydrated and gradually increase your activities, you should find yourself back to normal in no time.

We hope this guide helps you take the steps needed to fully recover from mild TBI.

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