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How Does the Brain Repair Itself After a Traumatic Injury?

illustration of how the brain heals itself after traumatic injury

Traumatic brain injury is a serious medical condition that can severely impact a person’s life. Fortunately, the brain is incredibly resilient and possesses the ability to repair itself after a traumatic injury.

This ability is known as neuroplasticity, and it’s the reason that many brain injury survivors can make astounding recoveries. However, neuroplasticity does not activate itself automatically. It will require your help.

To help you optimize your brain’s natural repair mechanisms, this article will cover important facts about neuroplasticity after brain injury, including the best ways to engage it.

What is Neuroplasticity?

silhouette of person's head, their brain is shimmering, symbolizing how the brain can repair itself after traumatic injury

For many years, researchers thought the adult brain was static; and that the brain stopped changing after a certain point in development. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, we now know that this isn’t actually true.

The brain is constantly adapting itself to your experiences. It attempts to become more efficient at the things you do regularly, like tying your shoes, so that it requires less effort to carry out that task. This adaptability is called neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity refers to both the creation of new neural networks and adaptation to existing ones. If you begin a new hobby, for instance, your brain will likely start creating new neural connections to help you improve. If you stop practicing a sport, those neural connections may fade as you stop experiencing it frequently.

For instance, when you begin a new sport, it’s likely that you’re not very good at it because you haven’t experienced it much. But after a few months of practice, you feel more confident. This is because your brain has adapted to your experience and created stronger neural connections for the skills relevant to your sport.

This is why, when learning to play the guitar, the first chord feels awkward and difficult. But after practicing a hundred times, it feels second-nature. Neuroplasticity helps make repetitive actions more efficient.

Reorganizing neurons is the primary way that the brain can repair itself after a traumatic injury. We’ll discuss how that works in more detail below.

How Neuroplasticity Helps the Brain Repair Itself After Traumatic Injury

cartoon of person closing their eyes, with gears in their head representing their brain working to repair itself

Your brain is composed of over 100 trillion neural connections. When you experience brain trauma, many of the neural connections you once had become damaged or destroyed.

This explains why you might lose the ability to speak after a TBI, for example. Because the neural connections that helped you understand language have been lost.

While the brain does not generate new neurons after an injury, it can compensate for that loss by changing the way information flows throughout the brain. This is where neuroplasticity steps in.

Through neuroplasticity, the brain can form new neural pathways, and therefore repair some of the damage it sustained. It can even transfer functions that were once held in damaged parts of the brain to new, healthy areas.

Think of it as a detour on the road. If the way is blocked or destroyed, you’ll have to find another route. Neuroplasticity creates that route.

Repairing the Brain through Repetition

As we mentioned above, neuroplasticity doesn’t happen on its own. It requires repetition.

The more you practice an action, the more you reinforce your brain’s neural pathways. And the stronger those pathways become, the easier it is to perform that action.

That’s why a key aspect in TBI recovery is massed practice i.e., exercises with high repetition.

For example, to regain speech you must practice speech therapy activities on a regular basis. To improve your ability to walk, you must practice leg exercises or practice walking consistently. Your brain will adapt to whatever you repeatedly experience.

Your can improve your abilities with enough practice, because your brain will respond and adapt itself to your experience.

Want 25 pages of TBI recovery exercises in PDF form? Click here to download our free TBI Rehab Exercise ebook now (link opens a pop up for uninterrupted reading)

Pushing Through TBI Recovery Plateaus

During the first six months after a brain injury, the brain enters a heightened state of plasticity. This means that the brain will spontaneously repair itself, and therapy will have a visible impact. Therefore, you might make rapid progress in your recovery.

However, after about six months, plasticity will decrease. As a result, you might feel like your recovery has stalled.

Therapists call these stalls plateaus, and they are a normal part of TBI recovery. But just because your progress has slowed down, that does not mean that it has ceased entirely.

Your brain can still make repairs during this time, and you can still activate neuroplasticity, even during a plateau. The key is to persevere with your therapy exercises. With enough time and practice, you should begin to make progress again.

Neuroplasticity: How the Brain Repairs Itself After TBI

Now that you know a little more about the science behind brain injury recovery, you can hopefully see why consistent therapy is so important.

When you activate neuroplasticity through practice, you help your brain repair itself and restore lost connections.

Therefore, even if you have severe brain damage, you can still make incredible improvements if you stay committed to your exercises. The more you exercise, the more skills you can regain. That’s the power of neuroplasticity.

Keep It Going: Download Our TBI Rehab Exercise Guides for Free

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Each exercise features pictures of a licensed therapist to help guide you. You’ll also receive a weekly roundup of articles on brain injury recovery.

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Get Inspired with This TBI Recovery Story

Independance, motivation and hope!

“My son Sharat suffered a severe traumatic brain injury 23 years ago leaving him with Aphasia and right sided weakness from his vision,hearing to his limbs. The lockdown in June was a great challenge for him as his caregivers stopped coming, no gym workouts and no outings for a coffee.

Being his mother and primary carer I feared that this was a hotbed for depression. I scoured the net and chanced upon FlintRehab. As there was a trial period it was safe for us to risk getting it across to Auckland.

His OT checked it out and felt that it was ideal. I can honestly second this.

He enjoys working on it and now after three months can do it on his own. His left hand helps his right hand. The FitMi video explains and shows him what to do, it gives him marks and applauds him too!!

He has to use both sides of his brain. The caregivers are OT students who returned enjoy working on it with him.

In three months there motivation built up in him with a drive to use his right hand. There is definitely a slight improvement in his right hand.

This encourages him as well as the caregivers to try harder.His overall mood is upbeat. He enjoys it, so much so, that it doesn’t matter if his caregiver is away.

FitMi is a blessing.”

Sharat’s review of FitMi home therapy, 10/10/2020

5 stars

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