Last weekend, I went to a brain conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre. There were 8 different speakers there including Dr. Daniel Amen, author of 28 books, physician and brain enhancement expert. In his talk, he talked about the NFL and his studies on brain scans of injured players. It was startling to see the difference in the damaged brains of NFL players and a relatively normal brain- it almost looked like the players' brains had holes or missing parts on the brain SPECT images. Even more impressive than seeing these scans was seeing after his treatments, the players' brains healed and almost looked like a normal brain again. I can only imagine how much this can help injuries in other sports as well.
So the main theme I got from Dr. Amen’s talk was how the brain can heal like our muscles, ligaments and other tissues. Then this made me think how the brain was damaged in the first place. Given football is a very physical sport and concussions are one of the common injuries to the players, I still wasn’t sure if there was a direct link to the damage as seen on the brain scans. However, this week I read in the news that the NFL has reached a $765 million settlement with past injured NFL athletes. Thus, even if the NFL doesn’t want to openly admit it, there is a link somehow from sports injury to brain damage.
Then it made me think that the brain is not so easily damaged like a sand castle damaged by a strong wave. Even with tackle after tackle, the brain is protected by our hard skull, and in football, by another skull called a helmet. However, with each tackle, the brunt of the force might be absorbed by the neck and its muscles. Whenever we bend our head forward and back, we are using our neck muscles. Thus, to brace our 10lb heads from snapping back with tackles and for charging forward from the line of scrimmage, our neck muscles are used to balance, brace and absorb. And if the blood flow to our brains can be temporarily halted by simply turning our heads up to look at the stars and fainting, then it made me think of the effect on the brain from chronically tight muscles in the neck over years or a career.
So it would have been interesting to hear from Dr. Amen in his talk about treating NFL players if any or how many had complained of frequent, recurring headaches. If tension headaches are a common problem for people, and also commonly caused by tension in the neck muscles, then it makes me think if NFL players might commonly get headaches, especially after a concussion. However, rather than see headaches as a bad thing, I see headaches as really a warning sign from the body that the brain needs more blood because tension in the neck may be temporarily impairing or partially blocking its flow. Similar to heart disease caused from gradually blocked arteries, is brain damage also a result of gradually blocked arteries to the brain?
Thus, the most important idea I got from Dr. Amen is that brain damage is treatable and possibly preventable. If tension might lead to tension headaches, and headaches are a part of concussions, and concussions are $765 million linked to brain damage, then the first step to avoid brain damage is to reduce tension in the neck and use headaches as a warning system or a self-diagnosis that the brain is trying to tell us something. Fortunately, in Osteopathy, we have many techniques to help us relax your neck, reduce headaches and also as part of our holistic training, we will look at the tension in your shoulders and back, the range of movement in your spine and your posture along with our cervical assessment of your neck. Our diagnosis is from our hands and our treatment is from our hands. Our techniques include trained adjustments, acupressure and massage, and gentle Osteopathic techniques using your head to shorten or stretch the muscles.
Sports injuries happen to more than just professional athletes, and we may all share a common cause. If you have chronic, recurring headaches, then treat it similar if a yellow warning light lit up on your car dashboard. Early preventative maintenance is the key to long term health and can help you cope and heal from everyday tackles. Call your local professionally-trained Osteopath today.
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