What is Functional Neurology and how can it help you recover from a concussion?

Have you ever suffered concussions or another type of traumatic head injury? 

If so, you may have been told that there is not much that can be done to help you recover and that you will just have to live with the symptoms. 

This doesn’t have to be your reality, though. Functional neurology programs employing research-backed interventions may deliver most patients greater relief from post-concussion symptoms.

Functional neurology is a relatively new healthcare discipline that addresses the underlying causes of neurological disorders, including concussions. 

It utilizes various techniques, including chiropractic, conventional treatment approaches, visual and auditory therapies, physical rehabilitation, and progressive modalities such as neurofeedback, laser therapy, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, among many others, to promote healing and improve brain function. 

Unlike the traditional treatment for concussions, which often focuses on symptom management, functional neurology aims to address the root cause of post-concussion symptoms and promote long-term recovery.

What are concussions?

Doctor examining athlete for post concussion symptoms

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury that occur as a result of a blow to the head, neck injury, a sudden jolt to the body, and even loud noises. 

In fact, whiplash injuries are one of the leading causes of concussions. 

They can happen in any type of accident but are most commonly seen in sports-related injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and slip-and-fall injuries. 

Even mild traumatic brain injuries should be taken seriously as they can lead to symptoms that last for months or even years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, up to three million people in the United States suffer concussions in sports and other recreational activities. 

Most of these concussions are minor, but even a mild concussion can cause symptoms that last for days or weeks.

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What are the symptoms of a concussion?

Patient holding head because of headache pain from post concussion syndrome
  • Headaches: A headache is one of the most common symptoms of a concussion. It may be a dull ache or a sharp pain and can be located anywhere on or in the head.
  • Dizziness: Dizziness is a common symptom of concussion and can make you feel unsteady on your feet or as if the room is spinning (vertigo). It can also be accompanied by lightheadedness, fainting, or a feeling of disorientation.
  • Nausea or vomiting: Nausea and vomiting can occur after a concussion due to the impact on the brain and brainstem or other symptoms such as dizziness or sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Blurred vision: Blurred vision can be caused by the impact on the brain or by injury to the brainstem centers that control eye movements. It can also be accompanied by other vision problems such as double vision or sensitivity to light.
  • Noise or light sensitivity: Sensitivity to noise or light can make normal activities such as watching TV, using a computer, or going out in public painful or uncomfortable.
  • Fatigue and having trouble sleeping: Fatigue can be caused by the brain’s need for rest to recover from the injury, and from systems that help us interact with our environment not running efficiently. Insomnia and other sleep disturbances can also occur after a concussion due to the impact on the brain and metabolic changes that occur as a result.
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things: Concussion can cause cognitive symptoms such as difficulty with memory, attention, and concentration. You may have trouble focusing, following a conversation, or remembering things that you have learned recently.

What are the 3 stages of a concussion?

Concussions are typically classified into three grades: Grade 1 (mild), Grade 2 (moderate), and Grade 3 (severe). 

Each grade has different symptoms that may last for varying amounts of time after the initial injury happened. 

In some cases, symptoms may not appear right away but may gradually worsen over time if left untreated.

How long can concussions last?

The length of time that concussions last can vary depending on the severity of the head injury and an individual’s pre-existing health status. 

Grade 1 or mild concussions may only cause symptoms for a few days, while Grade 2 or moderate concussions may cause symptoms for up to two weeks. 

Grade 3 or severe concussions will generally cause symptoms for longer than two weeks and may require medical treatment to ensure proper healing; although early intervention is key with any suspected concussion. 

Even after symptoms have resolved, it is possible for new ones to appear later due to the nature of brain injuries and underlying issues not being treated effectively, if at all.

How long after an injury can concussion symptoms start?

Concussion symptoms can start immediately after the head injury or can take several hours or even days to develop. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until several weeks after the initial injury. 

The time it takes for concussion symptoms to appear can vary based on several factors, such as the severity of the injury, the age of the individual, and their medical history. 

In general, children and older adults are more likely to experience a delayed onset of symptoms. 

Additionally, individuals who have a history of multiple concussions or who have experienced previous head injuries may be more likely to experience delayed symptoms; likely due to diminished capacity to recognize them.

It is important to seek medical attention immediately following any type of head trauma or suspected concussion to reduce the risk of further complications. 

It is also worth noting that even after concussion symptoms have resolved, new ones can still appear due to the nature of brain injuries.

Can you reduce the risk of concussions?

Head injuries are a common occurrence in various activities such as sports, accidents, or falls. These injuries can range from mild to severe, with concussions being one of the most common. However, the good news is that there are steps you can take to potentially reduce the risk of concussions and other head injuries. By taking certain precautions, you can minimize your risk of experiencing a concussion. 

Here are some ways to reduce the risk of concussions:

  1. Wear proper protective equipment: This includes helmets, mouthguards, and other protective gear that is specifically designed to help prevent head injuries in sports. Make sure the equipment is properly fitted and in good condition.
  2. Follow safety rules and guidelines: If you participate in sports, make sure to follow the safety rules and guidelines set by the sport’s governing body. These rules are designed to minimize the risk of a TBI and other sports injuries.
  3. Build up your neck strength: Strong neck muscles can help to reduce the risk of concussions by better absorbing the impact of a blow to the head and lowering the risk of brainstem injury. Consult with a healthcare provider for appropriate exercises.
  4. Use proper technique: Proper technique in contact sports can help to minimize the risk of an injury. Coaches and trainers can help athletes learn how to tackle, block, and perform other maneuvers in a safe and effective manner.
  5. Avoid head impacts: You can reduce the risk of concussions by avoiding activities that involve head impacts, such as diving into shallow water or engaging in high-risk contact sports.
  6. Stay alert and focused: Being alert and focused can help you avoid situations that could lead to concussions or other severe head injuries; such as not texting while driving
  7. Remove fall hazards: There are many hazards in the home that cause people to fall and hit their heads. Remove any dog toys, lose rugs, protect slippery floors, etc.
  8. Be mindful of alcohol and recreational/prescription drugs: All substances carry the risk of impairing balance and can cause falls. The number one side effect across all categories of medications is dizziness! 

By following these steps, you can reduce the risk of concussions and other serious injuries. It’s important to remember that even with these precautions, there is always a risk of injury. If you do experience a blow to the head or whiplash injury, be sure to seek immediate medical care if you experience concussion symptoms.

What is post concussion syndrome?

Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a condition that can develop after a concussion or a mild TBI. 

PCS is characterized by a range of symptoms that persist beyond the typical recovery period for a concussion, which is usually several weeks to a few months. 

The symptoms of PCS can be physical, cognitive, and emotional, and they can be quite variable from person to person.

Symptoms of post concussion syndrome may include:

  • Headaches: PCS headaches can range from a mild to severe headache and can last for a long time. They may be felt in different parts of the head and can be accompanied by other symptoms.
  • Dizziness: Dizziness or vertigo can be a persistent symptom of post-concussion syndrome. This can make you feel unsteady on your feet or as if the room is spinning.
  • Fatigue: Fatigue is a common symptom of PCS and can make it difficult to engage in physical activities. It can be caused by the brain’s need for rest to recover from the injury, and due to inefficiency of sensory systems injured due to concussion.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a common emotional symptom of PCS. You may feel nervous or on edge, and this can make it difficult to engage in activities.
  • Depression: Depression is another emotional symptom of post-concussion syndrome. You may feel sad, hopeless, or have a loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy.
  • Irritability: Irritability and mood swings can be a symptom of PCS. This can make it difficult to engage in physical activity or have healthy relationships with others.
  • Sleep problems: Sleep disturbances such as insomnia, hypersomnia, or other sleep disorders can occur after a concussion and PCS.
  • Trouble concentrating: Cognitive symptoms such as difficulty with memory, attention, and  executive function can appear in post-concussion syndrome.
  • Digestive issues: Digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, changes in appetite, constipation, or diarrhea can occur after a concussion and persist in PCS.
  • Emotional and behavioral problems: Other emotional and behavioral symptoms such as mood swings, anger outbursts, and impulsive behavior can occur after a concussion and be present in PCS.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Concussions and PCS can also cause hormonal imbalances, which can result in symptoms such as irregular or absent menstrual cycles or decreased libido.
  • and more

PCS is not a well-understood condition, and there is no single test that can be used to diagnose it; although, a multi-system neurodiagnostic approach can provide tremendous insight into the severity of the condition

Typically, the diagnosis of PCS is made based on a person’s history of concussion or mild TBI, along with the presence of a range of persistent symptoms, as well as the results of neurological evaluation and diagnostic testing.

PCS can be a frustrating and debilitating condition, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, many people can experience improvement in their symptoms over time. 

It’s important to seek medical care if you have experienced a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury and are experiencing persistent symptoms or if symptoms worsen that may be indicative of PCS.

What’s the typical treatment plan for concussions?

While there is no one-size-fits-all concussion treatment, the conventional medical approach (which is being shown to be outdated) is a combination of physical and cognitive rest for a short period of time, along with a gradual return to daily activities within a few months. These periods of rest often last far too long and can often promote more problems than they solve. 

Physical therapy is often recommended to help manage mild post concussion symptoms such as pain and dizziness. 

However, for cases with persistent symptoms and other risk factors, functional neurologists can offer a unique and highly effective treatment plan for PCS.

What is functional neurology?

Functional neurology or chiropractic neurology is a relatively new healthcare discipline that has its roots in the science of neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change and grow over time given appropriate and targeted environmental stimulation.

It takes a systems-oriented approach to health care, to address the underlying causes of disease and dysfunction. Functional neurology aims to optimize interrelated physical and cognitive function and overall patient health.

How can functional neurology help treat concussions and other head injuries?

Patient receiving functional neurology post concussion treatment

Functional Neurology can be used to help treat concussions and other head injuries by focusing on identifying and addressing the specific areas of the brain that have been affected by the injury. 

It aims to rehabilitate the nervous system and improve overall function and performance.

Some of the ways that Functional Neurology can help treat concussions and other head injuries include:

  1. Assessment: A Functional Neurology practitioner will conduct a thorough history and evaluation, and perform extensive diagnostic testing to identify the specific areas of the brain and nervous system that have been affected by the head injury. This assessment can help guide the development of a personalized treatment plan.
  2. Neurological Rehabilitation/Neuroplasticity: Functional Neurology takes advantage of the brain’s natural ability to adapt and rewire itself. Treatment may involve neurological exercises and other activities that challenge the brain in specific ways to encourage the development of new neural connections and improve function.
  3. Sensory Stimulation/Integration: Functional Neurology treatment may involve sensory stimulation, such as light, sound, touch, electrical or vibration stimulation to help improve function in specific areas of the brain. This type of stimulation can help to retrain the brain and improve overall sensory processing.
  4. Nutritional Support: Nutritional deficiencies and imbalances can impact brain function and recovery. A Functional Neurology practitioner may assess and address these issues through laboratory testing, dietary changes, and supplementation.
  5. Exercise: Exercise can play an important role in concussion recovery by improving blood flow, promoting the growth of new neurons, and reducing inflammation. A Functional Neurology practitioner can help determine what exercises would be appropriate given the individual’s specific needs and abilities.

Functional Neurology can be an effective way to treat concussions and other head injuries by providing a targeted, personalized approach to rehabilitation. 

However, it is important to work with a trained and experienced Functional Neurology practitioner to ensure that treatment is appropriate for your specific situation.

Why haven’t I heard about functional neurology before?

Although its applications have been practiced for generations, functional or chiropractic neurology as a healthcare discipline is a relatively new concept. 

In recent years it has gained significant momentum and wide acceptance as a proactive brain performance strategy and a powerful treatment option for multiple neurological conditions. 

The practice of functional neurology spans multiple disciplines including chiropractic neurology, psychology, conventional medicine, optometry, audiology, and physical and occupational therapies.

What’s the difference between functional neurology and conventional medical neurology?

The main difference between functional neurology and conventional medical neurology is the focus on brain performance. 

Functional neurologists take a systems-oriented approach to health care, to address the underlying causes of patient conditions and bring them back towards a place of wellness, not just treat signs and symptoms.

The goal of functional neurology is to optimize brain performance and health. In contrast, conventional medical neurology focuses on diagnosing and treating symptoms and disease. 

Crucially, conventional medical neurologists typically rely on medication and surgery to treat their patients whereas functional neurology is a more comprehensive, holistic, and generally safer approach to neurological care; including lifestyle guidance. 

It’s a proactive approach to health care that can potentially help prevent certain neurological conditions, rather than simply treating them.

How do functional neurologists treat post concussion syndrome?

By employing a comprehensive approach to the treatment of PCS and other neurological disorders that is customized to each patient. 

After conducting a thorough evaluation, the functional neurologist will develop a treatment plan that typically includes many treatment options such as neurological rehabilitation exercises, balance and vestibular therapy, metabolic and nutritional intervention, lifestyle modifications, and other intensive non-surgical and drug-free interventions.

What are examples of neurological rehabilitation exercises?

Doctors practicing functional neurology typically administer and interpret diagnostic imaging and testing and prescribe neurological rehabilitation exercises for Traumatic Brain Injury and concussion patients as a part of their treatment plan. 

These exercises help the brain recover and function more effectively. Done intensively, the results are often much more rapid. 

The goal of functional neurology is to optimize physical and cognitive performance and improve quality of life.

Some of the most common neurological rehabilitation exercises prescribed by functional neurologists include:

  1. Balance/Vestibular and coordination exercises
  2. Gait training
  3. Strength and flexibility exercises
  4. Cognitive and memory training
  5. Visual perceptual training/Eye movement exercises
  6. Sensorimotor integration exercises

What is vestibular therapy?

Vestibular therapy is a type of physical therapy effective at treating patients with balance disorders. 

The vestibular system is responsible for regulating movement and position. When these signals are disrupted, as with concussion and whiplash injuries, it may lead to dizziness, vertigo, and other balance problems.

Vestibular rehabilitation exercises can help to retrain the brain to process these signals correctly and improve balance. 

This type of therapy is often used as part of a comprehensive program to treat PCS, as well as other conditions such as inner ear disorders, Meniere’s disease, stroke, severe traumatic brain injury, brainstem injuries, and more.

What training is required to become a functional neurologist?

Functional neurology training is different from traditional medical neurology. 

To become a functional or chiropractic neurologist, one must first complete rigorous training in both chiropractic and extensive health sciences at pre-graduate and graduate/doctoral levels. 

Doctors practicing functional neurology must also have a strong understanding of how the nervous system works. This allows them to develop customized treatment plans for their patients.

Chiropractic Neurologists are the ideal representation of a Functional Neurologist. In addition to rigorous academic and certification requirements, they are uniquely qualified and skilled to offer patients a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the root cause of their condition.

What are the benefits of working with a functional or chiropractic neurologist?

The benefits are many. Functional or chiropractic neurologists can help to improve neurological conditions, rather than simply treating their symptoms. In addition, a functional neurologist can provide a more comprehensive and holistic approach to neurological care. Finally, a functional neurologist can offer their patients a more customized and individualized treatment plan. This allows for better care and improved outcomes.

Some of the most commonly reported benefits of functional neurology treatment for concussions include:

  • Reduced headaches and migraines
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Increased energy and focus
  • Improved memory, attention, concentration, reaction time, and more
  • Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety

How do you find a qualified functional neurologist in your area?

It is important to find one that is qualified, experienced, and board certified by an accredited board such as the American Chiropractic Neurology Board. 

You can also search online for functional neurologists in your area. When searching online, read reviews, check credentials, and be sure to schedule a consultation to see if they are the right fit for you.

What should you expect during your first appointment with a functional neurologist?

Brain scans can be ordered in the treatment for concussions

During your first appointment with a functional neurologist, you can expect a thorough history and examination of your nervous system, including your brain function and overall health. 

The functional neurologist will ask about your medical history, current symptoms, repeat concussions, memory problems, lifestyle, and any previous treatments you have tried. 

They may also perform various neurological tests and assessments to evaluate your brain function and identify any underlying conditions. 

Based on the results of the examination, the functional neurologist will develop an individualized treatment plan that may include a combination of therapies and techniques. 

Additionally, they may recommend lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise to promote healing. Expect to have a detailed discussion about your symptoms and what you expect to achieve with this therapy.

It is also important to note that functional neurology concussion treatment is not a one-time solution. 

The functional neurologist will likely schedule follow-up appointments, whether in-person or virtual, to monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan as necessary. 

It is important to be open and honest with your functional neurologist about any changes in your symptoms and lifestyle, or any challenges you may be facing, as this will help them to better tailor your treatment plan to your needs.

What’s the process at APEX?

Functional neurologist consulting a patient

The post concussion treatment journey with APEX starts with a confidential consultation with one of our doctors, who are all board-certified chiropractic neurologists. 

Whether in person or over the phone, the doctor will ask several questions to understand the nature and history of your brain injury.

They will seek to determine if your symptoms are due to a mild traumatic brain injury, other brain trauma, exacerbation of previous conditions, or if what you are experiencing are PCS symptoms. 

This initial consultation helps identify the best treatment plans available to help you recover quickly so that you can accomplish your long-term goals.

How do I find help for me or my loved one?

If you or your loved one is suffering from symptoms of a concussion or other brain injury, functional neurology may be a treatment option worth considering. 

A functional neurologist can offer a more comprehensive and holistic approach to neurological care, as well as a more customized and individualized treatment plan.

To find a qualified provider in your area, ask your care providers for a referral or find a board-certified doctor by searching the websites of the American Chiropractic Neurology Board and the International Academy of Chiropractic Neurology. Then schedule a consultation with a few potential candidates to see if they are the right fit for you. 

At APEX, our team of board certified doctors are here to help you on your journey to recovery. Schedule a confidential consultation today to learn more about treatment plans designed to help you recover from injury and achieve your brain function goals.

Dr. Michael S. Trayford is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Neurofeedback Specialist with over 20 years of experience in the practice of advanced functional neurology. He is one of the most highly sought-after brain rehabilitation specialists because of the life-changing outcomes his patients consistently experience. After over a decade in private practice and working alongside other pioneers in the field, Dr. Trayford developed his multimodal intensive brain training and rehabilitation program built around the science of Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to learn and grow dependent upon the stimulation it receives from its environment. He later founded APEX Brain Centers to combine his ground-breaking rehabilitation approach with a unique patient and caretaker-centered care model. Under Dr. Trayford’s leadership, APEX Brain Centers has successfully treated thousands of patients and earned the reputation of a world-renowned brain training and rehabilitation practice. Since its inception, Dr. Trayford has been a leader of the Brain Training revolution treating patients worldwide. In addition, he is a published journal contributor and international lecturer. His experience with various patients of all ages and neurological conditions has given him a unique perspective on brain health and human performance. He is also well-versed in collaborating with other health care professionals, making him an invaluable asset to any care team. Dr. Trayford was awarded the Functional Neurologist of the Year distinction by the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation, where he is a proud member and conference lecturer. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Council for the Dementia Society of America and the Board of Directors for the International Society for Neuroregulation and Research. He is also a servant leader who has dedicated his adult life to serving multiple communities through Rotary International and other notable causes. When he’s not treating patients, Dr. Trayford usually reads or researches anything related to the brain, human performance, and leadership. He also loves spending time outdoors with his wife Denise, their two daughters, and dogs in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. https://www.linkedin.com/in/drmichaeltrayford/

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