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Massage Aha!

Professional therapeutic massage therapy in Kansas City, MO by Aaron Harris, BCTMB

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Massage After Traumatic Brain Injury


Massage, along with intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapies can help preserve and restore motor function after a Traumatic Brain Injury.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is damage to the brain caused by some external accident, rather than from a birth defect, disease, or stroke. TBI disrupts motor functions, causes memory and logical thinking losses, as well as behavioral and emotional changes.

TBI is usually caused by a direct blow to the head or the rapid acceleration/deceleration of the brain. This commonly occurs due to car accidents, gunshot wound, sports injuries, falls, and physical violence.

Traumatic Brain Injuries are most common in people between 15 and 25 years old, with another spike in occurrence after the age of 75. Younger patients are usually affected by motor vehicle accidents, sports, and domestic violence. Older patients usually suffer traumatic brain injuries due to falls. Approximately 1.5 million TBIs are reported every year. Nearly half of these are drug or alcohol related.

Car accident
Car accidents are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury.

Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries

Though the brain is encased by the skull and other protective elements, there are several types of injuries identified:

  • Penetrating injury – Most commonly gunshot wounds, but occasionally other types of objects impale the skull and brain. This injury is the leading cause of TBI deaths.
  • Skull fracture – The breaking of bones in the skull and face due to impact during a car accident or physical violence can indicate damage to the brain beneath.
  • Concussion – Common in athletes, this type results in temporary damage that can accumulate with each successive blow to the head.
  • Anoxic injury – complete lack of oxygen in the brain. This can happen with drowning and choking or other airway obstructions.
  • Contusion – This is bruising usually caused by the brain striking the inside of the skull. There are often other bruises to the opposite side of the brain from the force of snapping back against the skull.
  • Hypoxic injury – partial loss of oxygen to the brain due to swelling, exposure to toxins, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Axonal injury – the tearing of nerve tissues that occurs in rapid acceleration/deceleration accidents, so this is common with whiplash.
  • Hemorrhage – bleeding, often associated with an aneurysm.
  • Edema – Swelling of brain tissue that happens immediately after an accident. This swelling can become so bad that a surgeon must remove part of the skull to release the build up of pressure.
  • Hematoma – Pooling of blood that can happen in the space between the skull and the brain, or within the structures of the brain itself.

Signs and Symptoms of TBI

TBI can cause a wide variety of problems, depending on the area of the brain that is damaged, and the extent of the injury. It is most common in the frontal lobes of the brain, which impairs motor control and language skills. Injuries closer to the brain stem are usually the cause of paralysis and death.

Some other signs and symptoms include:

  • Cerebrospinal fluid leaking from the ears or nose
  • Blown pupil(s)
  • Irregular breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Loss of bowel and urinary control
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Memory loss
  • Paralysis
  • Behavioral and personality changes, especially elevated levels of hostility and aggression

Preventing Traumatic Brain Injuries

Gunshot wounds are a leading cause of traumatic brain injury.

The two actions that can most drastically reduce your chance of suffering a traumatic brain injury are:

  1. Proper storage of, and adequate safety training around firearms.
  2. Wearing a helmet while biking, skateboarding, skiing, and riding a motorcycle or scooter.

The diligent use of seat belts in a car and taking care to prevent falls in elders are other important steps you can take.

Benefits of a Massage After Traumatic Brain Injury

Every TBI patient requires a different treatment plan because of the varying degrees of injury. Patients must be able to tolerate and adapt to the changes that massage can bring about.

If the patient is able to communicate their comfort and have not lost sensation, massage is not only appropriate, but can be incredibly helpful in restoring motor function and maintaining healthy muscles.

A comatose patient should be given light medical massage to preserve muscle tone and prevent bedsores.

I have a lot of experience with patients who have suffered from medical conditions that cause paralysis and loss of feeling, including Traumatic Brain Injuries. I can work closely with your rehabilitation team to develop a treatment plan that complements your physical and occupational therapies.

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