Concussions Are A Systemic (Inflammation) Injury

A concussion is an injury to the brain - but the effects of a concussion can effect your whole body. The complex neural connections of the central and enteric nervous systems is just one avenue a concussion effects the body. This is simply called the "gut-brain axis".

The brain and the digestive system are constantly communicating with each other through a variety of feed-forward and feed-back connections which control digestion, nutrient absorption, gut motility, and inflammation. When a concussion occurs, the brain cells are injured and the communication between the gut and the brain be disrupted resulting in a wide variety of symptoms. Common symptoms include pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and upset stomach. Some people may even be diagnosed with "leaky gut" or food allergies.

In recent years, the amount of research on concussions has drastically increased. This gives us new insights, more efficient treatment, and improved outcomes. Inflammation is not only important for post-concussion healing but it is also a hot wellness topic related to whole body health, nutrition, exercise performance, and injury healing. Not all inflammation is bad; it is the body's natural response to an injury or pathogen and is designed to help our bodies heal, remodel, and stay healthy. Like many body processes, the inflammation response is complex. This remains to be true in both the acute and chronic phases of post-concussion healing. Immediately following a concussion, the body responds by recruiting cells called neutrophils and monocytes, both of which mediate cytokine release which help manage cellular signaling. Microglia and astrocytes, cells that help maintain homeostasis, are other cells that are also intimately involved in the acute post-concussion response. This immediate inflammatory response is essential to promote healing and rebuilding following a concussive injury. But if this inflammatory response doesn't stop, it can lead to chronic inflammation and chronic symptoms. Read more about the inflammatory response in detail here.

In post-concussion syndrome, along with a variety of neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and stroke, mast cells are a key marker. Mast cells play a main role in inflammation mediation by eliminating antigens. Chronic exposure to inflammation or stress can lead to development of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) which is characterized by repeated episodes of anaphylaxis as evidenced by hives, swelling, itching, redness, and changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Learn more about MCAS here.

Treating the root cause of the inflammatory response is essential to reducing MCAS and other inflammation symptoms. Strategies to improve brain healing include regular aerobic and strength exercise, maximizing good eating habits and nutrition, improving sleep quality, and implementing lifestyle changes to reduce stress. Unfortunately there is no "cure" for MCAS but there are many strategies to help manage symptoms. Recognition of triggers, management of stress, and having a holistic treatment plan can greatly reduce the effects of MCAS on a person's life.

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Dr Jessica Klain PT, DPT, COMT, CSCS, OCS, CNPT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy practicing in Denver, CO and providing virtual wellness care world wide. She is an expert in concussion healing and promotes holistic health strategies to help people feel better.

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