I was laughing with a patient, DH, recently because I hadn’t treated his carpal tunnel yet. I had totally forgotten that he had first seen me 3 yrs ago intending to get his carpal tunnel symptoms treated, however as I took his initial history he had a far more serious condition that acupuncture could probably help. I asked if he would like to treat this first and put the carpal tunnel on the back burner. He readily agreed and thus our journey together started.
He had a traumatic brain injury in a car accident about 2 yrs prior to his first visit to see me. He was in his 50’s and prior to the accident his work involved supervising many people and designing landscapes.
He told me that the injury so affected him that for over a year his boss allowed him to come to the office but he mostly slept. He was unable to think through problems. He couldn’t do simple drawings of landscapes or plans anymore. He couldn’t reliably think through the process to get a project initiated and completed. He couldn’t do simple mathematical process such as adding how many of an item he would need to complete a project of a certain size. He knew that taking in new information was very hard. He would listen and try to be attentive but couldn’t always follow what was being told to him. He tried but his brain “felt like it would explode.” It took all of his energy just to get dressed, eat, go to work, sleep at work and come home. It was very hard for him to get with friends or do any other outside activities.
He was dizzy often. His temperature regulation was off. He found he was often cold even in 100˚ weather. He had severe headaches. He had nausea often for no known reason.
I recognized these symptoms were from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and were still profoundly affecting this man. Acupuncture can treat some of these injuries quite well as I intimately know as I had a similar injury and problems.
As I examined him, I found his cervical area was still “blocked” with restrictions in motion, congestion at the sub-occipital area (the area right under the skull), and tightness of the cervical muscles. His scalp had many areas that were “hot” meaning that in these areas had qi stagnation and the channels were blocked and not flowing properly. When I looked at him, his eyes and contact were “off”. I just don’t know how to explain it better. He was trying to be attentive to what I was saying but I could see he struggled with it.
Treatment started and I knew we needed to get the channels around the head and neck unblocked so that the qi or energy could flow properly again. To do this I used points locally in the neck and scalp but also in the arms and legs and torso. Also there are some point combinations that help the deeper brain structures rebalance and are known to help head trauma.
Back to DH, after the 3rd treatment he came in and said that he “felt like I have myself back”. He said it felt like his brain shifted after the previous treatment and he came back. There were tears in his eyes as this was a monumental change. It is difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t had a TBI what it means that you don’t “feel like yourself” especially when you look ok. I haven’t come up with an analogy for it and yet completely understood what he meant as I too experienced the shift when I was treated. Other head injury patients have told me similar things once they started to improve.
He has expressed over time that if that was all the acupuncture did it would have been enough just to have “his self back”. Out of all his complaints this was the most distressing.
However acupuncture didn’t stop there and his other major symptoms have improved greatly over time. Initially he was treated with a series of 10 sessions and then stopped treatment for 4-6 weeks. Then we would repeat another series and take a break for it to continue working and integrate the changes. Now we find that when he gets treated with series of 10 treatments ~3 times a year and that keeps him improving. He can tell he needs to come in for more treatment when his symptoms start to return but are milder compared to before. Sometimes he will call me and say he needs a quick “tune -up” of a couple treatments for some problem and return later for a full series.
He told me last week that he took a class that had a 30% pass rate and required a lot of math and drawing. He was able to pass and do the work and understand the process. Great strides! He told me he could look at a 7-digit work order number and write it down without looking at it again and again as he used to have to do… his memory is improving.
His temperature regulation is controlled most of the time. When he starts getting cold again he knows it is time for more treatment. His dizziness is gone most of the time. The headaches are much less frequent and not debilitating. He is able to work all day and still have some energy for social interaction. His eyes look normal and he doesn’t have to strain to listen and maintain his concentration. He can garden again.
Oh by the way, his carpal tunnel resolved along the way as I opened the channels and treated the other problems.
Acupuncture can often help traumatic brain injuries or post-concussion syndromes improve. Often the injury seems innocuous at first but the person knows they aren’t thinking or performing like they used to. I hope if you or someone you know has a TBI you consider acupuncture as part of the treatment strategy as it may really give the healing process a boost. It has helped me profoundly and many of my patients.