Think of the color red. Now, look around and I bet you see more red than you noticed before. It is always that way, isn’t it? If you decide on a new car you want to buy, suddenly they seem to be everywhere, when previously they were rare. It isn’t magic, it is just our brains focusing on what we consider important at the time.
There are a number of neurological structures that can be damaged in a traumatic brain injury (car accident, hard fall, sports injury etc). A very important one is something called the Reticular Activating System. We will call it the RAS for short. The RAS is the reason you see red when you think of it, and your new BMW seems to show up everywhere. Its job is to filter out things that are unimportant, while at the same time, relaying the information the brain needs about the things we deem important. This incredibly important system goes unnoticed until it malfunctions. We live in an overstimulated, sensory attacking world, the RAS is how we filter it. The RAS takes in all the sensory information we receive through our ears, eyes, skin etc., and decides what is important and what is not.
Imagine if that system is malfunctioning. Your brain would be overwhelmed with a million different stimulants. That makes it very hard to focus, sleep is often disrupted, and fatigue can be present. Things like ADHD can begin to develop because you are overstimulated. Tight muscles and pain can also occur, because the body is in a constant fight or flight response. Even some psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and depression have been linked to the RAS. When the brain gets overloaded, it is very difficult for it to function properly.
The RAS is located in the brainstem, and takes input from sensory nerves all over the body. One reason it may continue to misfire following a head injury is an upper neck misalignment. The brain stem extends down into the second bone in the neck. If this area is also injured, (which is extremely common in a trauma that causes a brain injury) it can place pressure on the brainstem and spinal cord, and distort the information the RAS receives. Bad input equals bad output.
The two big questions are; what does this all mean if you have suffered an injury and continue to struggle; and what can be done about it?
First of all, if you have had a brain injury, and continue to have issues even years later, this system malfunction could be the culprit. It causes things like poor concentration, anxiety, difficulties dealing with social situations, unexplained pain, or any number of issues you did not deal with prior to the injury.
The good news is there is great potential for improvement if an upper cervical misalignment is the source. If one (or both) of those bones were misaligned, it is very hard for the body to correct them on its own. Over time as they put pressure on the nerves, and the damage becomes greater and greater. This is why a majority will notice symptoms worsening over time.
Once corrected the nerves are able to heal and begin to correctly transmit information to the RAS, and in turn the RAS can send the proper information to the brain. At that point, the body is able to achieve a proper balance again, and the sensory overload no longer exists. This allows the brain to start functioning normally, and we tend to see symptoms like mental clarity and quality of sleep improve quickly, with other functional improvement following.
Having your upper cervical spine evaluated after a head injury is an important and necessary step in the recovery process whether the injury was recent or years ago.
Dr. Lee Angle
Dr. Lee Angle is originally from southern West Virginia. After having his life changed through Upper Cervical Care he chose to pursue it as a career. He has been practicing Upper Cervical Chiropractic for over nine years. Dr. Angle previously worked as a certified personal trainer. This background allows him to educate his patients on proper movement and exercises to speed their recovery and enhance their Upper Cervical Care.