Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Brain Injured and Massage Therapy

In this post I will share with you what I consider valuable information about integrating specialized massage routines into the recovery program for a brain injured person.

Over the years, massage has not been highlighted as a valuable asset to increased recovery following a brain injury. Many aspects, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, pharmaceutical drugs and surgeries, have been well documented but massage has had little if any significant overview.

The brain is an advanced, high tech device, far more capable and complex than even the best computers or smart phones. I know, your Android is sweet but when it crashes, it cannot repair itself. Your brain on the other hand, can create new neuro-pathways that will allow recovered function to the entire body. New studies are even showing that the brain can create new tissue and functional brain cells; though this was previously thought unlikely.

If you were a computer, the story would go something like this; Your brains function is similar to a computer operating system and without it, the rest of the computer cannot function. (It also acts as a hard drive and random access memory.) The brain stem and spinal cord are much like the mother board and you could consider your organs and tissues to be hardware and accessories. Now, if your brain was attacked by a virus, let's say a blunt force trauma, it may cause dysfunction to various portions of the overall computer; hardware, memory and so on, thus, causing "you" to run less efficiently. Many times you would just want a new computer but considering this is "you" we are talking about, let's just try to address the problem before we throw you in the recycle bin.

Let's be realistic, you can't massage a computer back into function! No, but you can load new information into the system (anti-virus, updates for software, do a re-boot, etc.) that could repair or work around the issues. This is where massage and bodywork comes into play. See the vast complexity of cells, organelles, neurons, neuro-transmitters, nerves, tissues and organs work together, with the brain at the top. So how do you get into the brain to reprogram lost data? Through the bottom. By going through the tissues, via the sensory nervous system, we can effect the recovery of the brain.

The skin is a major sensory organ. When you are sitting outside on a beautiful day, what do you experience on your skin? Nice breeze, warm temperatures, any little thing that tickles your nose or skin, the slightest touch from an ant or butterfly. Here in Phoenix, extreme heat is many times what is felt. All these things we feel are "sensations converted to information" and it is important that we have this input as a way of improving our function in general. Massage is perceived in a similar way and if applied specifically can cause some very basic updating of some important information that may have been misplaced during a brain trauma. Let's break it down a little more.

Range of motion: Many times a brain injury reduces range of motion in body parts and creates muscle spasticity. The brain has forgotten just how to move that extremity and the body goes into a protective mode. In many cases the sensory processing is disturbed also causing pain and discomfort. Specific massage and passive assisted range of motion is vital here for a quicker, more natural recovery.

Gate and balance: Very commonly brain injured clients will have complications walking or being stable, as they had before the injury. The muscles are in need of "feeling" pressure, the effects of gravity, movement and pressure in the joint areas, movement under a weighted load and various passive and active movements that the brain has forgotten. These types of sensations need to be administered, structured and tailored but can be accomplished by a properly trained massage therapist. Experiencing these variant sensations repetitiously, under a controlled setting, will increase the speed of recovery in the gate and balance of brain injured individuals.

Fight or flight: Some brain injured clients experience variants in blood pressure, pulse, paranoia, anger or aggression, sweating, dry mouth, or cold clammy hands. Many times this can be due to an imbalance in the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous system. Massage has been shown to decrease sympathetic nervous system activity allowing many of these symptoms to stabilize or greatly subside.

Jaw clenching, neck tension or speech dysfunction: Quite often a brain injured client may grind their teeth, have difficulties chewing, swallowing or will experience tension in the neck and jaw. Massage can be focused on these areas to balance this stress on the neck and jaw muscles. In some cases the massage therapist may have training or experience in working with the mouth and tongue which may improve chewing, swallowing and speech functions.

Muscle contractures: In a high number of cases, muscle contractures may develop after fairly short periods of time, when concerning severe traumatic brain injury. In these cases, it is so important to lessen the immobility of all joints and increase the range of motion and massage to any stiff area. Weekly massage, at a minimum, should be considered if there is any severe spasticity. There are other options that are offered by specific clinics and practices that will diminish the spasticity that causes such dramatic neuromuscular dysfunction.

I hope you now see that massage can be effectively integrated into brain injury recovery. Follow the links below to help you find and communicate with professionals that are trained and knowledgeable in the areas of massage for brain injury rehabilitation, chiropractic for brain injury patients, and naturopathic medicine focused on recovery after a brain injury. There are many valuable avenues for natural recovery and family support systems. Feel free to contact me for more information regarding this topic or other avenues of natural and holistic wellness methods, that are available throughout Phoenix. I'd love to hear from you.