When I slipped on the ice in February of 2014, I truly had no idea the journey I was beginning— and how long it would take me to find a doctor who could help me with my 24/7 symptoms from a traumatic brain injury.
I would eventually spend two and a half years making doctor appointments my full-time job, without getting answers or receiving the proper help that I needed.
I began my journey by seeing a local Chiropractor. Having been married to a Chiro for almost ten years, and understanding their very extensive education and skill level, I was much more comfortable seeing a Chiro than a mainstream medical doctor.
Unfortunately, this chiropractor was only treating my physical symptoms (I had a slew of physical injuries on top of the brain injury). I would constantly tell him I was dizzy and having trouble with my words, and that my left eye seemed “off.”
He would eventually send me to a Neurologist, and this is where my frustration with the mainstream medical field would begin.
To start off on the wrong note, the Neurologist was running 90 minutes late for my appointment — NINETY MINUTES!! I’m not even entirely sure how it’s possible to run that far behind, but it left me with approximately 15 minutes of her time, at the end of which she would tell me we just need to give my brain injury “a little more time.” If I wasn’t feeling better in six month, I was to return for a re-assessment.
In six months I did return to the Neurologist, still complaining of my short-term memory problems, dizzy and balance issues, the deep fogginess inside my head that I hadn’t been able to shake, and the fact that my left eye still isn’t feeling right. Once again, she didn’t seem very concerned about my brain injury and told me to return in another six months — which now put me at fifteen months out from my injury. At this final appointment with her, she actually said, “Well, since it’s a year out, this may be the best you’re going to get.”
I cried. I begged for cognitive or occupational therapy — anything that could potentially improve my symptoms. It was NOT acceptable that this was the best I would be (and by this point I already knew about neuro-plasticity and the ability for the brain to recover). She eventually agreed to send me to Cranial Sacral Therapy (CST) and scheduled me for a neuropsychological exam to determine where my deficits were.
Long story short — the CST worked wonders to receive the pressure in my head (why hadn’t she sent me to this sooner??!), but the neuropsych testing was a nightmare. The neuropsychologist basically told me I didn’t try hard enough because I scored worse than a dementia patient in short-term memory (yet that was my biggest complaint?!). She suggested that I be started on anti-depressants, Ritalin, and sleeping pills — all of which I politely refused, knowing they would only be a band-aid, and not actually help any of my symptoms.
Feeling isolated, alone, and that doctors didn’t believe me, I began to accept that the way things were, was going to be my new normal at 18 months after my accident. For next year I moved through life feeling like I was constantly swaying on a boat, I would regularly bump into door jams, I couldn’t read more than a few pages of a book at a time (when I used to be an avid reader), and my short-term memory was pretty much non existent (making running my own business quite a challenge).
Enter Dr. Schmoe
At the two and a half year mark, I received a message from Dr. Schmoe at Minnesota Functional Neurology DC. He had read one of my Huffington Post pieces — and told me he could help me. By this point I had already given up on doctors, and wasn’t interested in yet another doctor who soon tells me he can’t help me.
I finally relented and told myself “what could it possibly hurt?”
I am so glad I decided to go in for a consultation.
Dr. Schmoe spent two hours with me in his initial consult, testing my eyes, balance, cognitive abilities, and so much more. He confirmed that my eyes indeed weren’t tracking together properly, which is why my left eye had felt off. It was also why I was experiencing constant dizzy and balance problems. He worked with me over the course of two weeks, with 90-minute therapy appointments focusing on eye and head movements, incorporated with both full-body movements and hand-eye coordination exercises.
I noticed almost immediate relief. My dizzy and balance issues were nearly 100% gone. My mental clarity felt clearer, and I was finally able to improve my short-term memory. Gradually over the next few months I would feel that other symptoms, such as over-stimulation and extreme fatigue, were slowly slipping away.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My symptoms aren’t 100% gone. I still have flare ups, and if I overdo things, I will set myself back. But I went from feeling only 50% myself to 90% myself. I now know how to do the exercise wherever I am to calm the symptoms back down if I have a flare up.
The Down Side…
There is a downside to Functional Neurology — not a single doctor referred me to Functional Neurology, and I had never heard of it before Dr. Schmoe reached out to me. Because it’s not a mainstream medical profession, folks are skeptical of it. (even though mainstream doctors haven’t been able to help them).
I have actually received attacks and hate mail for my loud-and-proud stance on Functional Neurology. I have been accused of receiving kickbacks (payment for patient referrals) — which is a bold accusation since it is completely illegal across all healthcare professions. I have been yelled at because many don’t accept insurance. I have been lectured on how a Chiropractor or Functional Neurologist shouldn’t be allowed to touch anyone with a brain injury. I have been belittled and told that Functional Neurology is a sleazy, snake-oil scam — and everyone should be made aware of their gimmicks.
What the …?!
Here’s the thing. Every single medical profession has its fair share of bad apples. As you’ve gathered from this article, I was less than thrilled with my Neurologist (whom I am convinced received her diploma from a Cracker Jack box) and the Neuropsycholgosit should have her credentials taken away for the way she treated me. I have been to Chiropractors and MDs who amaze me that they managed to receive their degree.
My point is: if you don’t like a particular doctor — that’s fine. If you’ve had a bad experience … it’s ok to talk about. It’s always ok to “fire” your doctor if they aren’t listening to you. But it is NOT fair to bash an entire healthcare profession because of “something you read on the internet” or because of something that someone you know only through Facebook told you.
I remember how much it hurt when people would say to me about my Chiropractor husband, “OH, so he’s not a real doctor.”
Functional Neurology helped me when all other doctors and professionals had let me down. I had given up on my recovery, which is a very scary place to be. I will never stop talking about Functional Neurology because it’s not fair to the other millions of TBI survivors who are still struggling and have never heard of it.
With that said, not all Functional Neurologists specialize in brain injury and concussion, therefore, you do need to do your research. If you’re not sure where to start, give Minnesota Functional Neurology DC a call and they will gladly help you find someone near you.
Functional Neurology uses specifically designed therapies to enhance the performance of your brain and nervous system. This unique approach offers new hope for people suffering from a wide variety of conditions. Most Functional Neurologists have 1500+ hours of education beyond Chiropractic school specifically on the nervous system, and will spend hours instead of minutes with you at each appointment. They take a functional approach to each individual patient and create a very specific treatment plan unique to the patient’s symptoms.
Functional Neurology gave me back a quality of life I thought I was never going to find again, and for that I am forever grateful.
Full disclosure: Minnesota Functional Neurology DC is a sponsor my podcast series and my Brain Health Academy – along with South Florida Integrative Health. All views and opinions are expressly my own.
Amy Zellmer is an award-winning author, speaker, and advocate of traumatic brain injury (TBI). She is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, and has created a privateFacebook group for survivors and also produces a podcast series. She sits on the Brain Injury Advisory Council (BIAC) through the Brain Injury Association of America’s and is involved with the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance. She travels the country with her Yorkie, Pixxie, to help raise awareness about this silent and invisible injury that affects over 2.5 million Americans each year.
Although brain injury symptoms may subside enough for you to return to daily life, trauma to the brain can continue to subtly wreak havoc on how your body functions and feels for month and even years later. For instance, many people notice their hormone function isn’t the same after a brain injury.
Your hormonal command center — the hypothalamus and pituitary gland — is in the brain. Although a head injury may occur in an isolated area, the vast networks of communication across the entire brain mean that damage to one area affects the entire brain. And because the brain runs the body, it only makes sense daily operations of the body take a hit too.
Estimates on how many people suffer from hormone disorders caused by brain injury vary, however, one study of 1,000 patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) found almost 30 percent had compromised pituitary function.
The hormonal systems most impacted are the sex hormones, growth hormones (which adults need for bone and muscle strength), and adrenal, or stress, hormones. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can surface immediately or months or even years later.
Common hormone symptoms related to brain injury include fatigue, weight gain, low blood pressure, low libido, loss of muscle mass, and amenorrhea. Children may have growth problems later.
More severe repercussions can include Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency), diabetes insipidus (which causes intense thirst and heavy urination), or hyponatremia (abnormally low sodium).
How functional neurology and functional medicine can help restore hormone function
Why will two people with the same TBI have two wildly different responses hormonally? In functional neurology and functional medicine, we know one reason is the health of the brain prior to injury. For instance, one person eats a healthy diet, avoids inflammatory foods, isn’t already struggling with depression or anxiety, does not have advanced brain
inflammation, and exercises regularly. This person may experience a good and swift recovery after a TBI.
However, take the the person who lives on a pizza and mac-and-cheese, unaware that a gluten and dairy sensitivity are causing immune attacks on the brain. They also drink soda every day, sit gaming or working for hours instead of getting any exercise, and work or live in a stressful, toxic environment. This person likely already has hormonal imbalances and a highly inflamed brain. A brain injury is going to be much more devastating as a result.
Also, hormonal status in midlife can play a big role in how the brain responds to injury as the sex hormones are highly protective of the brain. For the woman or man who experiences a steep decline in hormone production in midlife, their brain is much more vulnerable to damage and slower recovery after a TBI.
You may think hormone replacement therapy is the answer, and in some people it may be, but in functional neurology we look at the various dietary and lifestyle conditions that create hormonal imbalances and work to address those.
We customize rehabilitative functional neurology strategies based on the type of damage a patient’s brain received and pre-existing metabolic health.
We also examine and address the function of related systems, such as the vestibular system, or inner ear; the vagus nerve, an information highway that connects the brain to the organs; and the visual system. Working with these systems, which are so integral to brain function, is a vital to rehabilitation.
If your hormones have been out of whack since your concussion, or brain injury, ask our office how we can help.
Zack and his family traveled from North Dakota for a week neuro rehab intensive with MFNC after multiple football concussions and then a brainstem stroke. Improvements were made in his balance, gait, headaches and his ability to feel is left side of his body during the week. Thank you Zack and your family for putting in all of the hard work at MFNC! mnfunctionalneurology.com
mnfunctionalneurology.com 612 223 8590 Braden's story- first soccer game of the season – game date was August 23rd 2016. Ball was kicked into Braden's left side of his head, causing Braden's right side of the head to collide with an opponent player! Double whammy!! The coach did not see and the referee saw but did not get him out of the game! Braden played 15 min longer knowing something didn't feel right as he played but wasn't going to disappoint his teammates! As the weeks progressed so did his symptoms: dizziness, headaches, balance issues, vision issues,etc.Today we are in a much better place than 1 year ago but it hasn't been with extreme exhaustion knowing what he endured and still continues to overcome! As a parent, many restless nights were done researching concussions and Drs and what treatment is right or wrong, many tears shed by his mom praying to God to watch over him and heal him, many costly appts and distances traveled for treatment, etc…. but what we wouldn't do for our kids right? I prayed many times for God to hand his cross over to myself -could I handle it? Probably not honestly!! God knew whom to pick for this cross and struggle -Braden!! Braden overcame what most kids have to do on medications, he did with none! We were blessed to find Dr Schmoe (Functional Neurologist) 8 mos ago and because of him Braden is doing better than any Drs would have guessed (again w/o medication)! Medications cover the symptom but do not resolve the problem!!Today-we are in a much better place and Braden's school year will be much better than last year! Does he still have symptoms? Yes but they are much more controllable and on bad days or after noisy events he knows rest is best!! Nothing will stop him – he still battles noise sensitivities but that's not going to keep him from his music (he is slowly trying to introduce jazz band, Steele drums and a lil wind orchestra). He is determined to be ready for track this year.Please continue to share our story and give our names to anyone needing to talk, needing suggestions, needing a shoulder to cry on,etc…. Connecting with other families and telling Braden's story has been our goal! We have spoken with people not only in ND but all over the USA, incl the Netherlands!! THIS happened for a REASON!! Braden will make a difference and has already helped so many families!! In turn, they also help us hearing their stories! We R BLESSED!!Jami and Braden
Testimonial: Texas family travels to MFNC for Post Concussion Headaches. A huge thank you to Spencer and his family for traveling from Texas for a week intensive at MFNC. Spencer has been dealing with debilitating head pain for the last 1.5 years. Improvements made during intensive care at MFNC. mnfunctionalneurology.com 612 223 8590
Video Testimonial: POTS symptoms improvement during week long MFNC Intensive. Abigail had symptoms of dizziness, vertigo, eye tracking issues and fatigue for 15 months. She was referred to MFNC from Mayo Clinic where we did a week intensive which consisted of manual therapy to improve breathing mechanics, tilt table therapy, balance and vestibular rehabilitation as well as cognitive/memory training. Postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), a form of dysautonomia, is characterized by orthostatic intolerance, and is frequently accompanied by a range of symptoms including palpitations, lightheadedness, clouding of thought, blurred vision, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4362313/mnfunctionalneurology.com 612 223 8590
So happy we can help complex patients like this amazing young lady at MFNC!This patient traveled all the way from ENGLAND to MINNEAPOLIS. Seeking help for her complex regional pain syndrome, CRPS, extreme hypersensitivity, POTS symptoms, multiple chemical sensitivity, extreme food reactions and dizziness. We worked with her for one week performing functional neurological visual and vestibular exercises, FNOR.NET rehab, we ran complete blood chemistry and labs from Cyrex assessing autoimmune reactivity and infectious load. Within one week her balance, visual symptoms, primitive reflexes, gait pattern, pain pattern, dysautonomia had improved and she is ready to start GETTING BETTER!! mnfunctionalneurology.com