Healthcare Insider Blog

New study shows importance of physical therapy for brain trauma patients

  • Healthcare Alvernia

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The leading cause of these TBIs for children ages 0 to 4 years and for adults aged 75 years and older is falls.

physical therapy treatments for brain trauma Doctors of physical therapy work with patients on strengthening muscles and improving balance in attempts to prevent these falls, specifically with the younger and older patient populations. In addition to prevention, physical therapists also play a critical part in the recovery process for those who have experienced a TBI.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that longer, more intense rehabilitation during the recovery process for those who have suffered a stroke or TBI can have significant benefits and may even improve the brain’s ability to repair and restructure itself.

Researchers tested this theory on rats that had undergone TBI, studying how they relearned skills and physical abilities based on the amount of therapy they received. The study found that those who received intensive rehabilitation therapy for an extended period of time regained a dramatic 50 percent recovery in function, whereas the rats that did not undergo intensive rehab did not rebuild brain structure or recover function.

“This has implications for medical practice and medical insurance,” said senior study author Mark Tuszynski, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Neural Repair at UC San Diego School of Medicine and neurologist with the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

“Typically, insurance supports brief periods of rehab to teach people to get good enough to go home. These findings suggest that if insurance would pay for longer and more intensive rehab, patients might actually recover more function.”

It is the goal of physical therapists to help post-TBI or post-stroke patients gain physical independence, which includes:

  • The ability to maintain alertness and follow commands
  • Muscle and joint flexibility
  • The ability to move around in bed, to sit without support, and to stand up
  • The ability to balance safely when sitting, standing, or walking
  • Balance and coordination
  • Strength and energy, reducing feelings of fatigue that occurs after inactivity or brain injury
  • A return to sports and fitness activities

Alvernia Doctor of Physical Therapy students gain knowledge and experience working with patients who’ve experienced TBI through courses like DPT 621: Neuromuscular Physical Therapy Practice III. This course explores various physical therapy management principles and procedures for individuals seen in the post-acute rehabilitation setting including attention, memory, language, executive function, motor learning, advanced wheelchair prescription, and principles of gait training and locomotion.

Effective November 12, 2014, Alvernia University has been granted Candidate for Accreditation status by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (1111 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314; phone: 703-706-3245; email: accreditation@apta.org). Candidacy is not an accreditation status nor does it assure eventual accreditation. Candidate for Accreditation is a pre-accreditation status of affiliation with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education that indicates the program is progressing toward accreditation.

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