Numbness after head injury can cause a complete loss of sensation in various parts of your body. In milder cases, it might give you a burning, prickling sensation.
Most of the time, the numbness will only last a few months. But some patients, especially severe brain injury survivors, will not recover sensation on their own.
Fortunately, there are ways to regain at least some, if not all, of your sense of touch.
Today’s article will discuss the various causes and treatments of numbness after head injury, so you can get back to feeling normal again.
Causes of Numbness After Head Injury
Numbness after head injury has two primary causes.
- The brain regions that control your sense of touch, such as the parietal lobe, could be injured.
- You could have damaged or pinched the nerve clusters connecting your brain to the rest of your body.
For example, if the trigeminal nerve in your jaw becomes damaged, you will experience numbness in your face.
In addition, there are several nerve clusters in your neck that, if compressed, will cause numbness.
Therefore, even if you only suffered a minor concussion, your neck could have been injured during your accident, which will lead to numbness.
However, nerve damage doesn’t only cause numbness. Depending on how severe the damage was, you could also experience:
- Non-painful tingling (paresthesia)
- Prickling or “pins and needles”
- Hypersensitivity to touch (dysesthesia)
Diagnosing Numbness After Head Injury
Since both a pinched nerve and brain damage lead to numbness after head injury, it’s essential to figure out which one is giving you problems.
Doctors will perform a variety of tests to determine this, such as MRIs or CT scans that let them see which parts of the brain might be affected.
Your doctor might also decide to use a nerve conduction velocity test, which measures the electrical signals moving through your peripheral nerves. This method can be an effective way to determine whether your numbness is due to nerve damage or brain damage.
Finally, you can also try working with a physical therapist to find out if your neck injury is causing numbness.
Treating Numbness After Head Injury
Once you determine what is causing your sensory issues, you can get to work on treating it. There are several options you can try, which we’ll look at below.
1. Sensory Reeducation
If damage to your brain has caused numbness, rehabilitation will involve rewiring your brain through repetition.
Specifically, you will need to use sensory reeducation exercises.
Sensory reeducation, also known as sensory retraining, is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps the brain relearn how to interpret sensation again.
It has been proven effective for activating neuroplasticity and helping people regain feeling.
Sensory retraining exercises are simple. All you do is practice touching objects.
For example, one exercise involves grabbing differently textured objects, such as a hard pencil or a fluffy cotton ball, and trying to guess what they are without looking.
For people with more severe sensory loss, a therapist will touch the patient with an object, while the patient closes their eyes.
First, they will ask you to identify where they touched you. Then as you improve, they’ll ask you to say what type of object they touched you with, whether it was hot or cool, soft or rough, etc.
The great thing about sensory retraining is that it is low-cost, with zero side-effects, and it’s something you can do at home. If you want to learn more, ask your physical or occupational therapist about it next time you see them.
It might seem unlikely that these exercises will help you regain sensation, especially if you are completely numb. But the brain possesses the ability to rewire itself with consistent repetition, so the more you practice, the more you’ll notice your numbness fading.
2. Massage Therapy and Acupuncture
Sensory reeducation won’t help much, however, if your numbness stems from a pinched nerve.
If the pinched nerve is in your neck, massage therapy and manual manipulation can relieve pressure on the nerves, which will restore sensation.
Many people also find relief from their numbness through acupuncture. While there isn’t much research available on the effectiveness of acupuncture on numbness, there is evidence that it relieves neuropathy.
Since numbness is a form of neuropathy, acupuncture might be able to help with that as well.
3. Electrical Stimulation (e-stim)
Electrical stimulation is another treatment option that can help you overcome numbness after head injury.
E-stim is a popular therapy technique that involves electrical impulses delivered to your muscles through adhesive electrodes placed on your skin.
There are several different electrical stimulation therapies you can use, depending on your needs.
To treat numbness and other nerve issues, you’ll want to use a TENS unit. These deliver a slightly lower electrical pulse, which allows it to stimulate your nerves without activating your muscles.
Once again, it is primarily used to treat chronic pain, but it has also successfully treated numbness in some patients.
Most therapists will recommend trying TENS first before moving on to the other treatments listed above.
Some patients develop a tolerance to electrical stimulation after prolonged use. To avoid this, try alternating between low and high frequencies. Your therapist can show you the best frequencies to use.
Finally, medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs can provide relief from tingling and burning sensations that accompany numbness.
Other drugs that may help alleviate numbness include lidocaine patches and certain anti-depressants.
Do not begin any medications without permission from your doctor.
When to Seek Help for Numbness After Head Injury
Most of the time, numbness will fade on its own and is not life-threatening. However, there are times when it’s a sign of a more critical condition.
If you experience numbness after your concussion, get to the hospital immediately if you also display these signs:
- Severe headache
- Uncontrollable vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Neck stiffness
- Double vision
The doctor at the ER will run tests to see if these symptoms are signs of more severe brain damage.
Recovering from Numbness After Head Injury
Numbness after head injury can either be caused by injury to the brain or nerve damage.
Once you can determine the source of your numbness, you can start appropriate treatment after talking with your therapist. Treatment could include sensory retraining, electrical stimulation, massage therapy, and/or acupuncture.
It might take some time before you notice improvements, but do not give up. The brain is a remarkably adaptive organ, and with enough treatment, you can have real hope of feeling back to normal again.