Concussions from the Chinese Medicine Perspective

Concussions and Chinese Medicine

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury that results from blunt trauma to the head or from violent shaking causing the brain to hit against the skull. Brain cells often are damaged and local blood flow can be impaired. Local swelling often occurs to the site of injury alongside inflammation.

Signs and symptoms can be slower cognitive function- such as having a longer response time to questions and slower speech patterns, nausea, headaches, mental fog, difficult concentrating, dizziness, blurry vision, balance issues, feeling “off,” and mood changes such as depression, sadness, or mania. Sleep may also be affected.

How can Chinese medicine help?

Trauma to the brain and head in Chinese medicine results in Qi and Blood Stasis. When Qi and Blood doesn’t flow smoothly along their channels, one experiences pain and potentially reduced range of motion. With a concussion, facial muscles may move more slowly and neck and shoulder pain is often present with restricted movement. Localized headaches may occur as well as generalized pain in the body. Acupuncture, herbal medicine and cupping can significantly decrease healing time by unblocking Qi and Blood flow.

In Chinese Medicine, changes in consciousness and mood are perceived as changes to what is called Shen or spirit. The health of our Shen/spirit is measured by our ability to perceive our environment correctly and interact with it appropriately. Shen is also qualitatively measure by the brightness one can see in one’s eyes. Shen/consciousness is said to be housed and nourished by the blood. When blood flow is impaired- as it is with a traumatic injury- the Shen/ mind cannot be nourished properly. Depending on other underlying factors, this may result in mental agitation, weepiness, dullness, or manic behavior. In Chinese medicine, if you treat the blood you are also treating the mind.

The main way that the blood can be strongly moved and treated with Chinese Medicine is through cupping. Cupping technique involves applying suction to an area. This suction lifts fascial tissues and pulls the muscle away from the bone. Many patients describe the sensation of cupping as feeling like a reverse massage because it decompresses local tissues. The suction also increases local circulation by pulling fresh blood into the capillaries. When cupping is applied to the neck and shoulders blood flow increases to the head, brain, neck and shoulders. This can alleviate neck and shoulder tension,  headaches, and eventually lead to clearer mental function.

In addition to cupping, acupuncture is great at clearing mental fog, reducing nausea and dizziness and helping you return back to your full functioning self. Acupuncture also has the added benefit of reducing inflammation and moderating blood flow.

Traditional herbal medicine formulas can speed up the healing time as well by keeping the treatment going after your in-person visit. Specific formulas can be written by your acupuncturist that are tailored to your specific constitution and issue. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it recognizes that you have your own health history in addition to any concussion or injury you may have sustained, and all treatments are designed with your specific case in mind.

Concussions can be frustrating due to their abstract presentations.  As robust as the brain can be, it is also quite delicate.  Sports injuries, motor vehicle or bicycle accidents, or simple falls can cause trauma to the head.  If there is any trauma to the head, no matter how insignificant it may seem, it is very important to have a concussion evaluation.  All to often, people underestimate the impact to their head and can experience prolonged symptoms.  When in doubt, get it checked out.  Be safe out there everyone. 

* Blood, with a capital “B”, is used to differentiate the concept of Blood in Chinese medicine, from the concept of blood we are all familiar with from allopathic medicine.  The primary difference being additional qualities of physiologic nourishment and psycho/emotional functions as well.