Recently I read an article that former football star Neil Smith regretted having played football. He had an illustrious career that many football players would wish for. He played pivotal roles in two Super Bowl wins with the Denver Broncos in the late 90’s. Knowing what he knows now, if he could do it all over again he would pass this up for a career in the military. This should be eye opening to have someone with such an amazing career give it all up to go to the military. So what could make him wish he had never played football?
The answer is health reasons. Once the career of a professional athlete is over, the quality of life can be really poor. Having had many concussions during his career, Smith recently revealed in an interview that he now suffers from migraines, memory loss, and had thoughts of suicide to name a few of the problems he now deals with. The long term effects of concussions doesn’t just plague Smith and football, but many other athletes from other sports. Athletes suffering from concussions is a very serious issue. Far more than people realize.
In a study published in the NIH, inflammatory markers were still present 17 years after the initial injury in some subjects. That’s almost 2 decades after the initial injury. Inflammatory markers play an important role in healing, but when they linger longer than they should, they can wreak a lot of havoc. They can damage healthy tissue near them. At that point continuing to have symptoms is called post concussion syndrome.
So to be clear, someone who had a concussion could have inflammation doing damage to their nervous system, including their brain, for nearly two decades afterwards. That is scary and that is just one issue many athletes and others who suffer with the long term effects of concussions have to deal with. That is not even considering the bodily damage that takes its toll elsewhere. Here’s some tips worth trying:
1. So what can people do who have suffered from concussions? Luckily there are some things people can do that can really help speed up the healing and prevent the long term effects of head traumas. Immediately after a concussion, the best thing to do is rest. Not just physical rest but mental rest. Ideally for at least two weeks or longer although there is no clear number that all cases fit into. Research shows that proper rest makes a dramatic difference in healing from concussions. It is not unusual for one to feel sleepy after a concussion. Perhaps there is a survival reason for this.
In his interview, Neil Smith described having had three concussions in one game. He should have been out of the game after the first concussion. He really should have been out for weeks afterwards. Not even allowed to practice for several weeks. I realize that would not happen in today’s professional sports world, but for the long term health and well-being of the person, that would have been best. At the time, games and practices seem incredibly important and it can be easy to get caught up. In the grand scheme of things, it’s more important to care about one’s health. In reality the best thing would have been to never play such a damaging sport in the first place.
We now know that the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that helps with healing, helps moderate inflammation. The vagus nerve is involved with resting, digesting, and healing. They all go together. This explains why resting is so important after a significant head trauma. Deep sleep is when we do some of our best healing. The vagus nerve is actively working on healing and moderating inflammation. When we don’t give ourselves enough time to rest and recover physically and mentally, we dampen the vagus nerve’s ability to heal the injury.
Meditation, relaxing activities, even adult coloring books, are great ways to calm the mind and help stimulate the vagus nerve. They are great activities to do before going to bed wind the mind down. Electronics should be avoided before going to sleep. Sleeping is when the most powerful healing takes place. Its importance should not be minimized.
2. For most of you reading this, it is probably too late for the head injuries suffered. It is still good information to know for the future. This does not mean there aren’t things to do if you did not rest as much as you should have. Much of the damage done to the nervous system from inflammation and trauma is done by free radicals. Free radicals are neutralized by antioxidants. There are many different supplements that one could take that could help. Two of the most important antioxidants to take is called N-acetylcysteine or NAC and melatonin.
NAC is converted to glutathione in the head. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant in the brain. It is made during sleep and deep meditation but is also important to supplement after a brain injury. Taking glutathione in that form as a supplement will never make it to the brain. Therefore it must be taken as NAC. NAC can make liver function tests become falsely abnormal if taken for a long time so be sure to mention it to your doctor.
Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant for the brain and nervous system. Melatonin is produced by brain in the pineal gland. Most are familiar with melatonin as the hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. We make less as we age and a head trauma likely requires even more. It is important to take melatonin as directed and to take breaks from it from time to time.
3. The last thing I would recommend for anyone who has suffered concussions and has lingering effects is to find a qualified osteopathic physician that does cranial osteopathy. Releasing compressions in the sutures and unwinding dural membranes can have a profound effect on the nervous system, including the vagus nerve. Many people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries have benefitted from this as well. Structurally improving problems and tensions in the skull can go a long way towards improving overall health and healing. Something like this could really go a long way to help athletes and former athletes like Neil Smith begin to get their lives back.
These recommendations may not undo all the damage that had been done by the severe traumas to their bodies, but giving someone a part of his or her life back and helping someone feel more normal can make a huge difference in their ability to function. If you would like more information, including self-help maneuvers one can do on their own, sign up below to be notified of my upcoming book, The Ultimate Self-Help Guide to Headache Relief: Relieve Your Tension Headaches Naturally and Get Your Life Back when it is released.