Concussions

While listening to sports talk radio the other day, the topic of Sidney Crosby came up. For those who don’t know, Sid the Kid has been one of the best, if not the best, player in professional hockey since he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins into the NHL in 2005. He won a gold metal for Canada at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the Stanley Cup in 2009. However, no one is talking about Sid’s accomplishments right now. His career is in jeopardy due to a concussion he sustained back in the 2010-2011 season that has kept him sidelined for all but a few games where he tried to come back only to have his symptoms return.

Anyone who has played hockey or any other physical sport has at least seen someone get a concussion. It doesn’t take much. Football has tried to make safer helmets and create rules that severely penalize hits to the head. Prevention is noble but if you ask anyone who has played sports, it is going to happen no matter how cautious. The more important question to me is how to treat it when it does happen. Time and avoiding another blow to the head are the recommendations these days. I think there is more we can do.

The brain, by all accounts, is a slow healer. As a pattern, tissue that has a limited or controlled blood supply is difficult to heal. Blood and brain tissue has to be controlled because blood is very toxic to nervous tissue hence the poor healing capacity. The reason blood is important in healing is because oxygen is a necessary component to healing. Oxygen is needed to burn the fuel in the form of glucose to give the cells energy to repair itself.

If more oxygen to the brain is the solution, then we have an effective remedy: hyperbaric therapy. In a hyperbaric chamber pressure is used to help oxygen saturate into the liquids of the body and can therefore easily cross the cell membrane and be used by the cell. In the brain this is especially effective because it also allows oxygen to cross the blood/brain barrier that is an extra protection for the brain and other nerves. More oxygen will allow the brain to actually heal.

Now, I realize that most people have not have ever heard of a hyperbaric chamber let alone know where to find one. Doesn’t it make sense, though, with all of the concern about concussions that we push for a treatment with a track record of success?

2 Comments

  1. I thought the brain couldn’t heal? I thought brain cells and nerve cells couldn’t heal after they had been damaged? My aunt had a stroke, and none of those cells will ever grew back, according to her doctors.

    1. Great comment, Mike! It is not that brain and nervous tissue does not heal it is that there is not usually enough time for it to heal significantly. The healing is so slow it is almost imperceptible because the nutrients, including oxygen, necessary to heal are not readily available due to the strict control of blood flow and the blood brain barrier. If you can get around the blood brain barrier and get oxygen to the damaged cells, there is a chance at quicker healing. The sooner the treatment, the better. I have a stroke patient right now who is in his 70’s, lost speech and most of his right side and is showing small improvements weekly.

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