Survivors of traumatic brain injury may find themselves wondering, can the brain heal itself? And the answer is yes. The brain is incredibly resilient and possesses the ability to repair itself through the process of neuroplasticity. This phenomenon is the reason why many brain injury survivors can make astounding recoveries.
You’re about to learn how to harness neuroplasticity after brain injury to promote your best possible recovery.
Enhancing Recovery Through Neuroplasticity After Brain Injury
For many decades, scientists believed the brain was a “nonrenewable organ” with a limited number of brain cells that faded as we aged. However, through advances in neurobiology, we now know that this isn’t the case. If fact, researchers have discovered the exact opposite: that the brain is fluid and rewiring itself throughout your entire life.
Your brain is constantly shaped by your experiences. Different pathways may form, whereas others may become dormant. This is because your neurons (or brain cells) rely on pathways and connections to deliver these messages that are responsible for every bodily function.
When the brain sustains damage, such as from a stroke or traumatic brain injury, many of these pathways are damaged and interfere with communication. Thus, without clear communication, the brain and body cannot function properly which makes it challenging for survivors to perform daily activities.
Fortunately, with the help of neuroplasticity, communication amongst neurons can be rewired, and function regained.
Can the Brain Heal Itself After an Injury?
So, can the brain heal itself from brain damage? Yes, absolutely – with the help of neuroplasticity!
Neuroplasticity allows the brain to create new pathways and strengthen existing ones. This enables healthy parts of the brain to compensate for damaged areas. You can imagine it like this:
When a street or freeway entrance has been blocked along your daily commute, the GPS may suggest an alternative route. This alternative route may be unfamiliar and take longer to navigate, but it will still lead you to your destination. The same concept can be applied to neuroplasticity.
Use it or Lose it: The Importance of Repetition
Now, you may be wondering how to activate neuroplasticity after brain injury.
Neuroplasticity is best activated through repetition, or massed practice. The more you practice a certain task, the stronger your neural connections become.
As previously mentioned, the brain adapts to experiences. Therefore, when the brain encounters a certain experience or action repeatedly, that pathway is reinforced and strengthened.
For instance, to improve your ability to walk, you should practice walking in safe environments. Additionally, there are leg exercises that you can do to strengthen your body and assist with mobility.
It’s important to practice impaired skills after a brain injury to prevent loss of function altogether. For instance, if your dominant hand was affected, you may be tempted to use your non-dominant hand instead, especially during mealtimes.
However, in doing this, movement in your dominant hand can potentially diminish due to nonuse. To prevent this, you must attempt to use your dominant hand as much as possible. This is where the popular phrase “use it or lose it” comes from.
Pushing Through Neuroplasticity Plateaus During Brain Injury Recovery
During the first few months after a brain injury, the brain enters a heightened state of plasticity. In this state, the brain spontaneously repairs itself and survivor often experience rapid progress. Therapy may also have a much more visible impact during this time.
This is, of course, an exciting time but can be one of concern, too. Some survivors may wonder if recovery still possible after the first few months.
Understand that neuroplasticity doesn’t necessarily stop after this heightened state, but it can slow down. During this time, you may feel as if your recovery has stalled. Therapists refer to these stalls as plateaus, and they are a common part of recovery after a brain injury. Do not be discouraged.
While progress may not be as rapid as it was in the beginning of your recovery, neuroplasticity is still happening past this initial stage. It’s important to continue pursuing rehabilitation as consistency can go a long way.
Even if results aren’t as immediate or prevalent as they were before, it’s crucial to practice repetition so that your brain can continue to heal itself.
Recovering from Brain Damage and Restoring Function with Neuroplasticity
However mild or severe your brain injury may be, there is hope in restoring damaged functions with the help of neuroplasticity. The best way to boost neuroplasticity is through repetition and consistency.
Many of the neural pathways and connections damaged after a brain injury often impair functions that we do on an everyday basis. But, with consistent practice, you can make incredible improvements in your recovery, even after the initial stage. Neuroplasticity after brain injury is not only essential for healing, but also living a productive, more independent life.