The physical effects of brain injury are numerous. Luckily, there are many ways to deal with them.
To help you overcome these problems, we’re covering all the major physical effects of brain injury and then looking at the best treatments for each of them.
Let’s dive in.
Physical Effects of Brain Injury
A brain injury alters the way your nerve cells signal each other. Since the brain is in charge of your every action, brain damage will make your physical abilities much tougher to control.
Some physical skills that a brain injury can impact include:
- Muscle strength and control
Besides those, there are still many other conditions that a brain injury can cause, such as
- Bladder and bowel control issues
We’ll look at all these effects and others in the sections below.
Probably the most common physical effects of brain injury are headaches and migraines.
Some TBI patients have constant headaches, while others only notice them when they’re stressed.
There are four major kinds of headaches you can experience after TBI:
- Migraines. The most intense type of headache. Usually a dull, throbbing pain on one side of your head.
- Tension headaches. Muscle tension triggers these headaches. These cause a tight, squeezing feeling all around your head.
- Cervicogenic headaches. An injury to your neck will cause these. Moving your neck can make the pain worse.
- Rebound headaches. If you miss a dose of your pain medication, this can make your headaches come back stronger. Caffeine withdrawal also causes these types of headaches.
Most headaches will resolve over time, and they should become less frequent as your injury heals.
If your headaches do not improve, there are medications your doctor can give you.
You might also want to consider massage therapy to relieve pain from tension and cervicogenic headaches.
Acupuncture is another treatment you can use to relieve your headache pain. It’s especially good for helping with muscle tension in your neck.
Fatigue is another common physical effect of brain injury.
Because the body and brain use up a tremendous supply of energy to fuel the healing process, this doesn’t leave you much strength to do anything else.
There are two main types of fatigue after brain injury:
- Central fatigue. This affects your thinking and makes you tired when you do mental work.
- Peripheral fatigue. This is just plain physical fatigue. With this, your body has very little stamina to move.
Of the two, central fatigue lasts the longest, though both will improve once your brain has recovered.
The best way to treat fatigue is to listen to your body. If you need sleep, then let yourself sleep. That’s when your brain does most of its recovery work.
If your fatigue does not improve after several months, ask your doctor to check your endocrine function.
Neuroendocrine disorders are common after brain injury and can cause severe fatigue.
You’ll also want to make sure you are following a healthy brain injury diet since that can give your body extra energy. The more fuel you can give your brain, the faster the recovery process will go.
3. Balance problems
There are three primary causes of balance problems after brain injury.
- Damage to the cerebellum and other brain regions that control balance
- Damage to the inner ear
- Muscle weakness
Treatment will depend on the cause of your balance problems.
You can treat most balance issues with balance exercises for brain injury patients.
The goal of those exercises is to strengthen the muscles in your body that keep you balanced. They also help retrain your brain to balance your body again.
If inner ear issues are causing your balance problems, you can treat those with vertigo exercises.
While you are working on these problems, you should modify your house to prevent any serious injuries.
Replace rugs with non-slip mats in the bathroom and install rails on the walls of your house to give you something to hold on to.
4. Spasticity and Brain Injury Paralysis
Spasticity and paralysis in the arms and legs are some other common physical effects of brain injury.
Both brain injury paralysis and spasticity are a result of communication problems between your brain and muscles.
After a TBI, your muscles no longer pick up the messages your brain sends, which tells them to relax or contract. As a result, they stay permanently contracted.
The best way to treat spasticity after TBI is to rewire your brain. This will help rebuild the brain’s connection with your muscles.
But how do you do that? By activating neuroplasticity through exercise.
As their connection to your brain improves, your muscles will receive more signals and finally start to relax.
You can engage neuroplasticity through stretching and passive exercises at first and then work your way up to active exercise.
Botox treatments can also help loosen your muscles, but that’s only a temporary fix. Until your brain can connect to your muscles again, they will always stay tense.
Apraxia refers to a condition where someone has trouble coordinating their physical movements.
They know what to do, and they have the physical strength to do it; they just can’t get their body to cooperate.
People with apraxia will have trouble doing basic activities of daily living. They might even do normal actions in odd ways, such as using a toothbrush to comb their hair.
An occupational therapist can help you regain coordination again.
If your apraxia is affecting your mouth muscles, speech therapy exercises can fix that.
6. Sensory problems
Your brain controls all your senses. This means a traumatic brain injury can also disrupt your ability to process your senses.
This can lead to problems with your hearing, such as
- Hearing loss
- Pure word deafness
- Sensitivity to sounds
- Ringing in the ears
If your brain injury caused occipital lobe damage, this could lead to visual problems, including:
- Visual field loss (partial blindness)
- Double vision
- Light sensitivity
- Loss of depth perception
Besides problems with sight and sound, a severe brain injury can make you lose your sense of taste, smell, and touch.
It can also cause strange sensations on your skin and make it hard for you to feel hot or cold.
There are few treatment options that help sensory problems. You mostly have to just treat the symptoms. If you have hearing loss, for example, hearing aids can help.
Thankfully, most sensory problems after brain injury don’t last long. Try to be patient, and work with your doctor to find out what else you can do.
Seizures happen when an electrical surge in your brain misfires.
There are two main types of seizures a person can experience after brain injury:
- Petite mal. These cause the person to stare into space. They might smack their lips, but there aren’t usually any other movements.
- Grand mal. The classic seizure, with severe jerking movements and loss of consciousness.
The best treatment for seizures is anti-seizure medication.
In severe cases, doctors can attach an implant that stimulates your nerves with electrical impulses.
You should call 911 when your loved one has a seizure if:
- They struggle to breathe before and after their seizure.
- They have multiple seizures in a row.
- Their seizure lasts over five minutes.
8. Swallowing problems (dysphagia)
In rare cases, TBI can weaken the muscles involved in swallowing. This can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening issues, such as choking and weight loss.
Most people can improve their swallowing skills with the help of a speech therapist.
A speech therapist will use certain swallowing exercises to strengthen your muscles and rewire your brain.
9. Bowel and bladder problems
Since your brain controls even your bowel and bladder functions, a TBI can sometimes impair them.
Bladder and bowel problems are usually at their worst in the first few weeks after a TBI, but with enough time and practice, most TBI patients will regain control.
So if these issues are causing you embarrassment, try to remember they are only temporary.
In the beginning, you may have to use a catheter and pad, but over time, you’ll start retraining your brain to control your bodily functions.
These training sessions will involve scheduled attempts and strict diet control.
The more you practice, the more your brain will learn to recognize when you need to relieve yourself, and you’ll be back in charge of your bladder again.
Overcoming the Physical Effects of Brain Injury
While the physical effects of brain injury are challenging to deal with, most of them will fade on their own as time passes.
But you can also speed up your recovery by activating your brain’s natural healing process. The best way to do so is through exercise.
Whether you want to improve your balance, your strength, or your coordination, all you need to do is keep practicing.
Practice makes your brain create stronger neural pathways, which lets an action become second-nature.
So, to overcome the physical effects of brain injury, keep up with your therapy. If you do, your recovery process will go much smoother.