How Does the Brain Repair Itself After a Traumatic Brain Injury?
Bill Allen | December 13, 2023 | Brain Injuries
Can the brain heal itself? Many people think of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) as being devastating and permanent. Some are, but the brain is more resilient than we often give it credit for. Here’s a look at how the brain can recover and compensate for damage after a traumatic brain injury.
Can the Brain Repair Itself?
The short answer is yes, but the brain may not heal itself quite the way you think. Traumatic brain injuries (and even mild TBIs like concussions) kill neurons in the brain.
When large numbers of brain cells suddenly die, you lose cognitive function. But thanks to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity, your brain can make remarkable leaps toward regaining full function, even after a severe TBI.
After an injury, your brain clears away the dead neurons. However, because your brain doesn’t create new neurons when you’re an adult, it needs to heal from brain damage another way. So, how does the brain heal after a concussion or other TBI?
Instead of regrowing neurons, your brain changes the way it processes information. Existing neurons effectively take over the functions of the neurons that were destroyed.
The easiest way to understand this phenomenon is to look at an analogy to a common workplace situation. If an office has ten employees and three of them quit overnight, the work those employees usually do is assigned to the employees remaining in the office.
However, unlike the redistribution of tasks in the workplace, rerouting neural pathways takes time and patience. The brain is a miraculously self-healing organ, but it needs time and rest in order to heal.
How You Can Help Your Brain Heal Itself
Your brain needs time to fully heal. That doesn’t mean you need to sit around waiting, though — there’s plenty you can do to help the healing process. Above all, you should listen to your doctors, but below are some general suggestions to help the process move smoothly.
Get Lots of Rest
Can frontal lobe damage repair itself? It can, but not if you don’t give your brain time to rest and heal. In the case of a TBI, “rest” doesn’t only mean getting enough sleep at night; your brain needs both physical and mental rest.
Activities that require a relatively high degree of thinking can get in the way of healing. Even reading and playing video games can be too much for a healing brain!
Eat Healthy Foods
Healthy foods give your brain the nourishment it needs to heal.
It’s particularly helpful to eat lots of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including:
- Fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel)
- Brussels sprouts
Your doctor may also suggest taking omega-3 supplements along with dietary changes.
Write Everything Down
Dates of appointments, medication dosages, phone numbers — if it’s important, write it down. TBIs may make it harder to recall even basic information, and struggling to remember can also put a lot of stress on a healing brain.
Avoid Mind-Altering Substances
Anything that alters your mind will slow down healing. You should avoid alcohol and illicit drugs completely, but even caffeine should be avoided, as it has some effect on cognitive functioning.
There Is Hope After a TBI
If you’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident, sports injury, or something else, it’s easy to let yourself be overrun with worry. What if you can’t think like you used to? What if you can’t remember important life events? Will your personality change?
Worrying is natural after a major injury like this. But when you understand that the answer to “Can the brain heal itself from brain damage?” is a resounding “yes,” it might make your recovery much easier. When you rest, do what you can to help your brain heal, and listen to your doctors, your progress might surprise you!
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