by Sharik Peck, PT
Once again, I was standing on top of a skyscraper with that all too familiar nausea kicking me in the stomach. I knew I had to climb out onto the ledge and get across the plank that connected the two buildings. Partway across, sweating profusely and my heart pounding, I froze. Feeling the scream rise from deep within I was surprised I could not hear my own scream. Suddenly I felt myself falling and had no power to stop. Awakening with a start, I felt the sweat roll over me, and my heart felt like it would burst. The nightmare had happened again.
Nightmares with a theme of falling from a building, a cliff, or down a hole, sometimes while trying to save someone, sometimes while trying to get away from someone, were a regular occurrence for several years after my traumatic brain injury. Another frequent companion was the startle that would often jerk me awake while I was beginning to fall asleep. According to research published through the National Institutes of Health, sleep disturbances affect between 30-70% of people after a TBI.
Years of studying the human nervous system and treating thousands of patients helped me understand why I had those recurring night terrors after my TBI, and why they finally stopped. You see, working on your own sense of balance and proprioception (knowing where all parts of the body are at all times) will help your brain recover from the effects of a TBI and it’s one of the best things anyone can do to diminish the potential of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
One of the first exercises I have my balance-impaired clients perform is standing on one leg. This simple exercise has been used to reduce injuries in the NFL by as much as 77%! In a study involving receivers and ball carriers in the NFL, standing on one leg for five minutes each day in the pre-season, and for five minutes on each leg two times each week during the regular season, had a profound effect on their injury rate. We also know from research that practicing balance exercises will enhance the brain’s healing potential, creating new neurons to help the nervous system improve its efficiency to protect you.
The question my clients frequently ask is if they can hold onto something while practicing their balance. The answer is that the proprioception system is not needed when you are holding on or stabilizing your body, So, when it is safe to stand without holding onto something with your hands, or leaning against something to steady your body, let go to give those balance and proprioception systems a workout. Often I will have a client practice standing somewhere, like in front of a couch, so losing their balance will not end in injury.
Another great help is scraping your toes, feet, and legs to wake up the sensors that help with balance. This technique comes from ancient Eastern medicine where the scraping is found to help the nervous system heal by waking up the connections to that area.
Last, one of our favorite techniques to help retrain balance comes when strapping the Pain Tuner Pro to a leg and having our clients stand or walk about, which sends billions of bits of information to the brain through their body’s joint receptors and connective tissue, giving the brain a better sense of where those parts are in space. This increased communication, practiced a couple of times each week, can help the nervous system become aware of all of the connected parts and trains the balance systems.
Retraining my balance took away my night terrors and it can help you too.
Receive 30% off your Rezzimax Pain Tuner Pro with discount code TBI at www.rezzimax.com
Sharik is the CEO of Rezzimax, LLC. He suffered his first major TBI at the age of 17, suffering a sports-related hemorrhagic stroke. He later received a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in counseling from Utah State University. He is passionate about pain relief and determining how the nervous system works, as well as humanitarian work to relieve suffering.