How Can Bowen Therapy Help Heal a Concussion or Traumatic Brain Injury?

As a Bowen Therapy practitioner, I am aware of and have experienced the healing power of Bowen Therapy, an effective whole-body technique that uses a set of gentle precise moves at specific locations primarily over muscles. Some people may have heard of Bowen Therapy for musculoskeletal pain but may not be aware that it also can be very helpful for concussions.

A new client came into my office who had been struggling profoundly with many aspects of life for over a year as a result of ongoing symptoms from diagnosed post-concussion syndrome.  The following is shared and printed with his permission. He had trouble following directions at work and struggled to put his thoughts together and communicate them in a coherent way. Planning and organizing was challenging. He felt in a mental fog all the time and had difficulty concentrating. Nausea was an ongoing symptom resulting in very little appetite. There was pressure in the front of his head and a pain behind his eyes combined with a sensitivity to light and sound. Leaving his apartment during the weekend felt like too much, and he had trouble talking on the phone or having conversations in person. As a result, he felt very socially isolated. He had trouble sleeping and had very little energy. The least provocation made him irritable, and he felt angry and sad a lot of the time.

Over the course of a few months of weekly Bowen Therapy sessions, he steadily but surely regained himself – his clarity, his sense of humour, his friendships, his ability to work and his enthusiasm. As he said, he was “emerging from the fog”.  We gradually un-ticked the symptom boxes. What a pleasure and an honour to be part of his journey.

Sustaining a concussion can be extremely distressing, debilitating, and life-altering no matter the age, interests, or stage of life of the individual suffering from the injury. While most people recover completely from a concussion, others, such as this client, have symptoms that remain unresolved. These ongoing physical, cognitive and psychological symptoms can introduce enormous stress and uncertainty in people’s lives. Students may find it challenging to retain information for exams, athletes may face uncertainty about Return To Play protocols and remaining in their sport, employees may find that they are having difficulties with instructions and completing projects, and relationships may be affected. Sleep deprivation can magnify all of these challenging life changes.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) resulting in a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. It is defined as a change in brain function following a force to the head, which may or may not cause a temporary loss of consciousness and is identified with measures of cognitive and neurologic dysfunction.1  A concussion can also be caused by a hit to any part of the body that causes movement of the head, such as whiplash. 2 Experts believe that a concussion is a biochemical injury involving a cascade of chemical reactions that disrupts the brain’s electrochemical balance. Initially, there is a mismatch between glucose supply and demand in the brain, resulting in an energy crisis as the brain tries to regain homeostasis. During this time, cellular metabolism is stretched to the limit, and it is thought that brain cells are more vulnerable and less able to respond to further brain injury. 3

The diagnosis of a concussion can be challenging as signs and symptoms can be subtle and physical and cognitive markers can be normal. MRIs, CT scans and blood tests are also commonly normal. 4,5 Concussion symptoms can be immediate and/or delayed onset 6 and balance testing can normalize more quickly than other symptoms, often complicating diagnosis.

Delayed concussion symptoms, such as nausea, vision issues or sleeplessness, make evaluation very challenging. An athlete, for example, may feel fine on the sidelines immediately following an injury but minutes to days later develop symptoms. This speaks to the importance of ongoing evaluation and follow up with suspected concussions and the need to encourage people to report any changes that may occur later.

Currently, medical professionals use a standardized tool called Sport Concussion Assessment Tool, Version 3, (SCAT3), which incorporates symptom evaluation and cognitive and balance assessment. Out of 22 possible concussion symptoms, only one needs to be present, such as dizziness, to diagnose a concussion.7

Bowen Therapy’s ability to help rebalance the Autonomic Nervous System is extremely important after a concussion, and helps to initiate the healing process. The Autonomic Nervous System is made up of the Sympathetic Nervous System, or ‘fight or flight’ mode, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System, or ‘rest and digest’ mode. It controls over 80% of our bodily functions and is very susceptible to external stressors. It is not uncommon for people to be in a state of sympathetic dominance or ‘fight or flight’. Bowen Therapy is like a catalyst, helping to shift the body toward the Parasympathetic Nervous System of ‘rest and digest’ by encouraging a deep relaxation. This relaxed state is critical for our healing process to begin. During a Bowen session, it is not uncommon for a client to relax to the point where they drift off to sleep, indicating a release of stress at deep level and a shift away from the Sympathetic Nervous System.

Bowen Therapy involves a rebalancing of the lower and upper body and neck. This is very important in the concussion recovery process, as the body may have begun to take on some compensating patterns, and the neck may have sustained a strong flexion or extension force, which is particularly true in the case of whiplash injuries.

Bowen Therapy also helps to increase blood, nerve and lymph flow, which are critical in concussion recovery. A recent study has shown that lymph flows in the brain, which was not previously known.8 The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, may have been affected in a concussion injury. Bowen Therapy is very helpful in rebalancing the TMJ, which is important in increasing the blood supply to the brain and resetting the balance system in the body. In addition, Bowen Therapy can specifically help to address any vision issues that may have resulted from a concussion.

When the body’s innate healing process has been stalled due to a head trauma, this can result in a slow recovery. In cases of post-concussion syndrome, Bowen Therapy can be very helpful in restarting or overriding a stalled healing process. Its a bit like providing the spark plug to the engine. Bowen Therapy encourages the body to remember how to heal and return to its original blueprint or homeostasis, which is the body’s most efficient recovery process. It can also help to speed up the healing in cases where the concussion would have resolved on its own.

Michelle McLeod, CNP, is a Bowen Therapist and Nutritionist, whose practice, Naturally Balanced, is located at The Carrot Common on the Danforth in Toronto. For more information visit naturallybalanced.ca. She can be reached at michelle@naturallybalanced.ca or 416-778-9098.

Footnotes
  1. Carney N, Ghajar J, Concussion Guidelines Step 1, Systematic Review of Patient Indicators, Neurosurgery, Sept 2014, Vol 75, Issue – p S3-S15.
  2. Charles Tator, founder of the Canadian Sport Concussion Project at UHN’s Krembil Neuroscience Centre, “Current Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Concussions and Their Consequences,” Canadian Medical Association Journal.
  3. Christopher C. Giza and David A. Hovda, The Neurometabolic Cascase of Concussion, J Athl Train. 2001 Jul-Sep; 36(3): 228–235.
  4. Ellis MJ, Leiter J, Hall T, McDonald PJ, Sawyer S, Silver N, Bunge M, Essig M. Neuroimaging findings in pediatric sports-related concussion. J Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, published online ahead of print, June 2, 2015; DOI: 10.3171/2015.1.PEDS14510.
  5. Lee B., Newberg A., Neuroimaging in Traumatic Brain Injury, NeuroRx. 2005, 2(2): 372-383.
  6. CDC Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Injury Prevention and Control: Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion.
  7. SCAT3, Br J Sports Med 2013 47: 259.
  8. Louveau A, Smirnov I, Structural and functional features of central nervous system lymphatic vessels., Nature, 2015 Jul 16;523(7560):337-41.

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