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Concussions, cardio & your recovery

When you get a concussion, it's not just your head that's impacted. Your whole life and body are affected. In this blog, we'd like to share and explore just what happens to your body following a concussion and explore why exercise is so important.

ANS: Autonomic Nervous System

Following a concussion (mild TBI), your autonomic nervous system (ANS) can be disrupted due to the involvement of the brain on this system.

You might wonder how are the ANS and concussion related?

The ANS regulates many involuntary processes such as heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, blood flow, breathing, and digestion. Furthermore, this system has two main components: the sympathetic nervous system which is in charge of your “fight or flight” response and the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of your “rest and digest” response.

Most often, if the ANS is altered during a concussion, the more dominant reaction will be the “fight or flight” component, causing your body to react in a more heightened state.

This ANS dysfunction following a mild TBI is usually short lived; however, symptoms can persist. Symptoms include but are not limited to irregularities with body temperature, headaches, heart rate changes, blood pressure changes, sensitivity to light, gastrointestinal issues, sleep disturbances, tension, and mood changes.

What can cardiovascular activity do to help?

Exercise can help restore the balance of the autonomic nervous system by improving cerebral (brain) blood flow regulation with increasing overall blood flow.

Exercise can also help with neuroplasticity by up-regulating brain derived neurotrophic factor genes by increasing heart rate and blood pumped to the brain.

This movement assists with repairing and building nerve cells.

Other factors of exercise include helping improve mood with endorphin release and improving sleep.

How do you know how to incorporate aerobic exercise?

Supervised aerobic exercise is key:

Your PT at CTS will perform a Buffalo Concussion Treadmill (or Bike) test to evaluate your sub-maximal threshold by determining your heart rate at the time of any symptom increase. Therefore, the HR is very important to monitor to prescribe patient specific sub-maximal threshold exercise to keep from over-exertion but enough to gain the benefits of exercise.

Progression in aerobic exercise will be incorporated with the goal of greater than 80% predicted HR max for at least 20 minutes without concussion symptoms for several days, to allow the patient to further progress in the return to sport process.

To learn more about concussions, managements and our exclusive Brainplus™ program we offer at CTS, click here.

References & Sources:

Berlin CISG 2016

John Leddy, MD, FACSM, FACP: his presentation on Prescribing Aerobic Exercise Post Concussion - Guide to Post-Concussion Autonomic Dysfunction | Cognitive FX

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