Almost three million cases seen in hospital emergency rooms are traumatic brain injuries. For most survivors, recovery means overcoming the secondary effects resulting from TBI. Fortunately, these can be managed by undergoing physical therapy specifically for traumatic brain injury.
Rehabilitation therapy allows survivors to regain some of their mobility, rebuild their physical strength, and restore their cognitive abilities. Continued exercise is also important following the injury as it helps to increase the blood flow in the brain and improve overall mobility. The exercises below are some small ways to remain active after sustaining a TBI.
Top 7 Exercises for Traumatic Brain Injury Patients
Should you engage in physical activity after sustaining a traumatic brain injury? There are several factors you’ll need to consider when doing so. The most important factor, however, is that you exercise safely. It is not uncommon for TBI survivors to become frustrated with their condition and seek ways to hasten their recovery.
Fortunately, plenty you can do at home will help build strength and improve your flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular health. These can be done in addition to taking traumatic brain injury medication. The following, adapted fitness exercises will help your body heal when done safely:
1. Arm and Shoulder Workouts for Traumatic Brain Injury
Arm exercises are important for brain injury recovery. They can be done at home, and you don’t need special equipment or an expensive gym membership. Examples of arm exercises for brain injury recovery include biceps curls, which can be done with actual weights, or just a water bottle. Simply flex your arm at the elbow and move slowly, bring the weight towards your head, then back down again.
2. Balance Workouts for TBI Recovery
One of the areas affected by traumatic brain injuries is balance, but with care and exercise, one can steadily regain their sense of balance. This can be tricky and quite frustrating at first, as patients often fall while attempting to stand on their own, and that’s why it’s important to work with a therapist at this stage.
Stand in front of something you can use as a balance or support. While holding on to the support, shift your weight to one foot while slightly raising the other foot off the ground, and hold your position for up to thirty seconds. Switch to the other foot and repeat.
You can also practice balancing while in tandem stance by placing one foot immediately in front of the other and holding position.
Another useful exercise is placing your feet together, crossing your arms across your chest, and standing up straight with your eyes closed. This may be tricky at first since our brains depend on our vision to maintain balance, so that the body may sway a little. Hold that position for as long as possible, and with time, this exercise will engage proprioception to help your body maintain balance.
3. Core Exercises for TBI Recovery
Core exercises are one of the most important parts of your traumatic brain injury recovery. They help rebuild your core strength and stability, which can be lost due to TBI. Some simple core exercises include oblique crunches and punching forward. Other effective exercises involving a stability ball include planks, crunches, or leg lifts. Take care to perform these movements slowly so that you don’t strain yourself.
You can add weights with time and increase the speed and intensity to make your workout more impactful. Floor exercises can also be useful in engaging one’s core, can be anything from sit-ups to pushups and can be performed with no additional equipment!
4. Cardiovascular Exercises for TBI Recovery
Cardiovascular exercise can improve brain function, reduce blood pressure and even help manage heart rate. By increasing your heart rate, you increase blood flow to your brain, bringing nutrients and oxygen to the brain, which will help the injured brain heal faster.
These aerobic exercises are great for trauma victims and can be low-impact as you build your coordination and strength. They also help patients maintain a healthy lifestyle after their injury, which is important if you want your body to heal properly.
Examples of cardiovascular exercises for TBI survivors include:
- walking outside or on a treadmill for up to 30 mins a day
- swimming laps in the pool for 20 minutes every day;
- biking at an easy pace (no more than 10 miles per hour) on flat ground or a stationary bike for 30 minutes each day;
5. Leg Exercises for TBI Recovery
People who’ve experienced brain injuries often sustain secondary effects that affect their gait and ability to stand up straight. The good news is that there are exercises you can do in your own home that will help strengthen your legs and improve balance.
To begin, you can perform hip rotations and abductions to improve hip mobility. This simple move needs only a chair and towel on the floor to help you slide your foot. Another useful exercise involves you lying flat on the floor and alternately raising your legs by engaging your quadriceps. These workouts don’t need special equipment so you can easily perform this at home.
6. Flexibility Exercises for TBI Recovery
As you recover from your traumatic brain injury, it is important to work on your flexibility. Progressive physical therapy is one of the best ways to improve your physical health and overall quality of life after a traumatic brain injury.
It’s easy to get stuck in an exercise routine that doesn’t allow for enough range of motion or flexibility, so try some new exercises that target different body areas. Stretching, for example, helps your muscles relax. If you’ve been bedridden or stuck in a wheelchair for a while, certain body parts may have gotten stiff, and stretching helps regain much-needed flexibility.
Patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries often face spasticity and various degrees of muscle stiffness. Workouts and stretches that increase the body’s range of motion are encouraged to combat this. Ideally, these should be done daily, working various body parts individually to relieve stiffness.
7. Cognitive Exercises for TBI Recovery
Cognitive exercises are a great way to practice your brain and ensure it’s not losing its edge. These exercises can help you develop new neural pathways and alter the major traumatic brain injury’s long-term effects. Your brain is like a muscle, and while it may have been affected by the injury, “exercising” it by doing mind-engaging exercises will assist in strengthening it. And if you sustained any memory loss, these mental exercises can prove helpful too by stimulating neuroplasticity.
Journaling can help you process the brain injury damage and function as a cognitive workout. Physicians advise engaging all five senses in this case, i.e., by being in nature where you can see, smell, hear, and feel. If you can’t write, you could talk to your therapist about what you observe instead, as long as you’re challenging and stimulating your brain.
A common exercise in cognitive therapy is recalling certain information, e.g., using flashcards. Puzzles and various board games can also help challenge your brain to strategize, build problem-solving skills, and help improve memory. You can also find online cognitive therapy games that work on repetition, helping sharpen your memory skills.
Exercise as a Vital Component for TBI Rehabilitation
For individuals grappling with the aftermath of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), exercise emerges as a pivotal ally in the recovery journey. While the nature and extent of exercise may vary depending on the severity of the injury, incorporating targeted physical activity can contribute significantly to rehabilitation. Exercise aids in enhancing cognitive function, promoting neuroplasticity, and fostering neural connections crucial for recovery. Additionally, it addresses secondary effects of TBI, such as muscle weakness and impaired balance. Tailored exercise regimens, designed in collaboration with healthcare professionals, not only aid in physical rehabilitation but also play a crucial role in restoring a sense of well-being and independence for those on the path to recovery from traumatic brain injury.
Benefits of Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery Exercises
Exercise can help boost one’s mood and overall mental health, physical health, and emotional well-being. It can also improve neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change and adapt) by increasing blood flow within the body. This is important in brain trauma victims who need help improving memory and concentration and reducing stress levels, a common result of traumatic brain injury and depression.
Exercise also reduces anxiety by releasing endorphins that reduce pain perception. This effect is achievable through aerobic activity such as walking or cycling on a bike path, as well as weight-bearing activities by providing physical relief and boosting mental wellness levels!
In addition to the health benefits of exercise, it can help with sleep and rest. Exercise stimulates the production of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that promotes feelings of happiness and well-being. When this chemical increases in the body through regular exercise, it can improve sleep quality and reduce stress levels. Rest can also help the brain heal faster.
A TBI can be difficult to treat since it affects all of the body’s functions, from memory to perception. However, with the right treatment and rehabilitation, these injuries can be reversible, and you can live a normal life again.
Hopefully, this article has helped you discover some of the safe ways to exercise to begin your recovery path! Remember not to push yourself too much, healing is a process, and with patience, you’ll start to see results! Reach out to a branch near you to sign up and access your free 7-day pass!