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BRAIN WAVES

Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

The Importance of Activity After Brain Injury

You’ve just had a concussion, aka, a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), or even a moderate or severe TBI. You’re used to being active, but now you have brain fog that won’t go away. You’ve also heard that you’re supposed to avoid physical activity until you feel better, whether that takes days or years. What now?

First things first: Everybody’s brain injury and activity history are different, so remember—one size does not fit all. You may think laying low until your symptoms are gone, a concept known as cocooning, is your best bet; however, studies indicate that too much resting for more than two days can be detrimental to your recovery. The trick is pacing yourself from moderate to more intensive activity, preferably under the guidance of a professional.

Enter Sarah Lindvay, CTRS, Program Coordinator for Daring Adventures.

Improved technology and wider acceptance of adaptive equipment have been a godsend to many, helping people of all abilities to go almost anywhere.

The Importance of Activity After Brain Injury

You’ve just had a concussion, aka, a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), or even a moderate or severe TBI. You’re used to being active, but now you have brain fog that won’t go away. You’ve also heard that you’re supposed to avoid physical activity until you feel better, whether that takes days or years. What now?

First things first: Everybody’s brain injury and activity history are different, so remember—one size does not fit all. You may think laying low until your symptoms are gone, a concept known as cocooning, is your best bet; however, studies indicate that too much resting for more than two days can be detrimental to your recovery. The trick is pacing yourself from moderate to more intensive activity, preferably under the guidance of a professional.

Enter Sarah Lindvay, CTRS, Program Coordinator for Daring Adventures.

Improved technology and wider acceptance of adaptive equipment have been a godsend to many, helping people of all abilities to go almost anywhere.

This recreational therapist from Erie, PA has spent her life around people with differing levels of mobility, including her mother who survived two strokes. As a softball and rugby player, Sarah has herself experienced numerous head injuries and understands the frustration many feel during recovery and not knowing what to do next.

For professionals involved in a brain injury survivor’s rehab, she recommends finding out what a person’s interests and hobbies were prior to their injury, and how they can continue doing those things with adaptations as they return as much as possible to their former life. “Your level of physical activity after brain injury all depends on the type of person you were, the severity of injury, support available, and getting involved with leisure during the transition from inpatient to outpatient,” Sarah shares.

Depending on the severity of the injury, the process can be very frustrating in the beginning for the survivor. “I see anger and agitation, especially when people aren’t ready to advance. So, we have to start out slowly, often with stretching and standing,” she says.

Improved technology and wider acceptance of adaptive equipment have been a godsend to many, helping people of all abilities to go almost anywhere. “We can use adaptive equipment for anything—from walking, to hiking, biking, kayaking, and even to rock climbing,” she enthuses. “The equipment is oriented to their specific needs to help people regain their independence.”

It has also allowed athletes to continue to compete in many competitive team sports, like wheelchair basketball. “In various sports, we use customized wheelchairs, with the wheels cantered to move faster and make sharper turns,” explains Sarah. “If someone likes hiking, we strap on off-road tires, or use a gate belt and a spotter, as well as an off-road walker that has big front tires to get over rougher terrain.”

Increased activity is also essential for becoming connected with the community. “When people become socially isolated, it can lead to depression, with a feeling that there’s no point to life,” reminds Sarah. “In addition to lifting people out of that funk, regular physical activity often results in feeling better, getting fit, and increasing self-esteem. What’s more, it enhances balance and coordination, as well as the ability to do everyday activities, thereby building independence.”

To demonstrate her point, Sarah shares the story of Jonathan Neal Grant. This Navy SEAL and combat medic instructor was in a terrible car accident while en route to offer medical aid at a fire. He experienced a TBI (diffuse axonal injury) and went into a coma. When he woke up, he had to re-learn how to do virtually everything.

His wife Laura was a Pilates instructor and understood that to bring him back to some version of his former self, he would need movement. So, she started massaging his feet every night, then employed other Pilates and physical therapy techniques. Eventually, he was able to get around in a wheelchair.

Four years later, through hard work, determination, and his supportive relationships, Jon continues to make great strides. People often see him riding a bike as Laura holds the gait belt. Together, they have an Instagram following of over a million that details the impact of Pilates on their lives.

The Grants’ story underscores the importance of support, determination, and incorporation of a desired physical activity, even when the brain doesn’t yet realize how beneficial it will be or how good it will feel.

If you don’t know where to start, Sarah recommends the swimming pool method—just dive in! As you find activities you enjoy and are good at, your self-confidence and sense of fulfillment will be positively affected in turn. “[The activity] can be anything – theater, an art group, you name it,” Sarah declares. “As a therapist, my job is to help people find what they’re into. Then the healing can begin.”

ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members and professionals.

What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:

  • Works with Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
  • Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
  • Hosts Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
  • Has Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response team with peer support, training, and family wraparound services
  • Facilitates Brain Health Advisory Council
  • Manages statewide Neuro Info-Line: 888-500-9165

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