Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

If you have experienced a mild traumatic brain injury, you already know the term “mild” can be quite the understatement.

Migraines, dizziness, nausea, and even cognitive problems are just a few of the symptoms you can develop after a mild TBI.

To help you combat these symptoms and get your life back to normal, we’ve gathered together all the best advice from our other columns to create this ultimate guide to mild traumatic brain injury recovery.

We’ll cover everything from the symptoms of mild TBI to the best ways to treat it and reduce your recovery time.

Let’s get started!

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Definition

While there is no single definition of a mild traumatic brain injury, the generally accepted one is a bump or blow to the head that disrupts brain function and results in a loss of consciousness less than 30 minutes.

Another name for mild TBI is concussion or minor head trauma.

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

  • Persistent headaches
  • Nausea
  • Visual problems (such as double vision or blurriness
  • Dizziness/loss of balance
  • Sleep problems

Other less common symptoms associated with mild TBI include:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of smell
  • Mood swings
  • Depression

When to seek medical attention for mild traumatic brain injury

treatment for mild traumatic brain injury

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

So how do you know when a head injury is serious enough to warrant a trip to the ER?

You should seek immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms are present:

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

Even if you feel fine, your best course of action is to have a doctor check you out and perform an MRI or CT scan as soon as possible after your head injury. That way they can detect any potential brain bleeds that may have developed and give you immediate care.

Once you’ve been treated for any serious complications from your mild traumatic brain injury, you can start your recovery process.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment

recovering from mild traumatic brain injury

The best way to treat a mild traumatic brain injury is to pace yourself.

Many people after suffering a concussion will try to immediately go back to their normal routine, but this is a bad idea.

Your brain is working on over-time to heal from your injury, and you need to allow it time to do its job.

This is why it’s crucial for you to never ignore your symptoms or try to push through them.

Most of the symptoms of mild TBI, such as headaches and problems concentrating, are not necessarily bad signs. They are just your brain’s way of giving you information about its injury.

In other words, if you notice your headaches get worse when you do too much physical activity, that is your brain telling you to slow down and take a break.

Think of it like having a torn muscle. You wouldn’t (or shouldn’t!) go back to lifting weights right after you tore your bicep.

After a mild TBI, your brain has a “torn muscle,” so you need to let it rest and gradually work your way back up to normal activity.

A good way to help you pace yourself after a mild traumatic brain injury is to practice something called cognitive rest.

Cognitive Rest After Mild TBI

the ultimate guide to mild traumatic brain injury recovery

Cognitive rest is an important aspect of mild traumatic brain injury treatment.

In order to practice cognitive rest, you don’t need to quit thinking entirely. You’ll just need to avoid mentally taxing activities like, for example, multitasking.

Here are some suggestions to help you get enough cognitive rest and let your brain recover:

Don’t drive.

It is dangerous to drive while you are recovering from a mild traumatic brain injury.

Not only does it put a lot of strain on your brain, but your reaction time and hand-eye coordination could be impaired from your injury.

So let someone else take the wheel until you are completely recovered.

Take time off work, or lessen your work load.

If possible, take some vacation time to let your brain heal, or talk to your boss about lightening your responsibilities.

If you are a college student, let your professors know about your injury so they can accommodate you.

Take notes.

Write down, or have someone else write down, anything you need to remember.

This lets you rest your short-term memory skills, which use up a lot of brain power.

Limit lights and sounds.

One of the most common symptoms of a mild TBI is a condition called photophobia, which basically just means your brain will be extra sensitive to bright lights and loud noises after an injury.

To give your brain a chance to heal, it is a good idea to stay away from those things for a little while.

How to Speed Up Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery

mild tbi recovery time

Following all this advice is probably the most effective way to treat a mild traumatic brain injury.

Like we said, your brain is doing most of the healing work on its own, you just need to rest and let it do its thing.

But are there any other ways to help speed up the recovery process?

Actually, yes there are!

You can help your brain heal itself and shorten your recovery time from a mild traumatic brain injury by following certain precautions in the first few days after your injury.

Get Plenty of Sleep

You may have heard that it can be 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, there is no reason not to let them sleep.

Sleep should definitely be one of your top priorities when recovering from a mild traumatic brain injury. This is because sleep is a restorative state that allows your brain to recover from stress and consolidate new memories and information.


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

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, bringing it the vital nutrients it needs to heal. Exercise also activates neuroplasticity which can help you restore any functions you may have lost.

In fact, low impact exercise, such as walking or swimming, has been shown to help reduce symptoms of nausea and dizziness in mild traumatic brain injury patients and shorten recovery time!

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

Stay Hydrated

When you are dehydrated, your brain cells can’t function as efficiently, which impairs your brain’s ability to repair itself.

That’s why, to speed up your recovery from a mild traumatic brain injury, you need to drink at least 64oz of water per day, possibly more.

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 your brain cells and can slow your brain’s healing process.

Eat Healthy

Make sure you consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, such as those found in a good brain injury diet. These will stimulate your brain’s production of new nerve cells and boost your recover!

Some foods that are great for your brain are:

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

Turmeric is another food you can try. It reduces swelling and provides pain relief, which can be just what your brain needs to recover.

What if Your Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms Do Not Subside?

what to do after mild traumatic brain injury

In the vast majority of mild TBI cases, symptoms should start subsiding within 30 days.

However, if your symptoms last longer, you may have developed post-concussion syndrome.

Treatment for post-concussion syndrome is the same as the advice above, but you also might need to participate in special therapies, such as vestibular therapy, which can help you combat feelings of dizziness.

Your doctor can also prescribe medication to reduce headache frequency and severity.

But besides post-concussion syndrome, there’s another possible explanation for why your symptoms are lasting so long.

Whiplash and Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries

If you are not seeing any improvement from your TBI symptoms, you may actually be experiencing the effects of whiplash.

That might sound strange at first, but it’s true! Whiplash and mild traumatic brain injury have identical symptoms. Unfortunately, this fact is often overlooked during treatment.

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.

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

If nothing else seems to be working for you, it might be worth seeing a professional massage therapist to rule out whiplash and other neck issues which could be unknowingly causing you problems.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery

The symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury can be more devastating than many people assume and can cause serious difficulties in a person’s life.

As difficult as these effects are, you should not worry. Most people with a mild TBI will make a full recovery, as long as they take the right steps in the initial days of their injury. We hope this guide to mild traumatic brain injury recovery will help you do just that!

Your brain has an amazing capacity to heal itself. If you allow yourself enough rest, and gradually increase your activities, you should find yourself back to normal in no time.