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Neurofeedback for TBIs: What To Know After a Bicycle Accident

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) resulting from a bicycle accident can be life-altering. Finding a treatment that improves quality of life – mentally and physically – when symptoms persist can be challenging and sometimes frustrating. Neurofeedback has become a go-to treatment option for some seeking to minimize TBI side effects.

The biofeedback method has been used to improve mood and mental health and has even been used among professional athletes to enhance performance. Because of its success for many with varying mental health needs, the therapy may be a contender for cyclists who have encountered a TBI through an accident.

Like any medical treatment, neurofeedback may be a great treatment option for some, but not for others. It’s important to consult medical professionals about the best treatment for your condition.

What is a traumatic brain injury?

Like its name suggests, a traumatic brain injury is caused by trauma. A number of things can cause a TBI — a bump, blow, or jolt to the head — and severity can vary.  In bicycle accidents, being hit by a car and hitting the pavement during an accident can cause concussion and more intense TBIs, depending on speed and other factors.

Symptoms of TBIs, according to Stanford Medicine, include:

  • Loss of consciousness – how long can dictate what type of TBI a patient may have
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems and trouble thinking
  • Mood and personality changes

Concussion is often considered a “mild” TBI, but the experience can feel anything but mild. Even mild TBIs can have lasting physical and mental effects. In fact, there is no universal definition for “mild TBI”, so it’s important to be aware of symptoms and seek out medical care as necessary following an accident.

Treatment of TBIs can range from a few days of rest to intensive rehabilitation, and even when physical symptoms subside, mental side effects, like anxiety and depression, may continue.

What is neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a therapy that is essentially used to capture brainwaves, measure them, and then helps guide the brain into producing healthy waves. A practitioner will place electrodes on the patient’s head to detect brain activity, then, a computer analyzes the brainwaves and sends them back in the form of pictures or sounds.

Patients may be completing tasks during the therapy while the computer encourages the “positive” brainwaves.

“People suffering from anxiety, for instance, may lessen their symptoms by repeatedly being guided to generate brain patterns correlated with a calmer state of mind,” the New York Times explains. “Just as we learn to ride a bike by doing it repeatedly, the theory goes, our brains can learn to be less depressed, more focused and better primed for a good night’s sleep.”

The therapy is repeated as a way to train the brain, much like exercise, but the patient likely won’t feel anything during the treatment sessions, which doesn’t require surgery or any invasive methods.

“Typically trainees find [neurofeedback training] to be an interesting experience. Neurofeedback operates at a brain functional level and transcends the need to classify using existing diagnostic categories,” explains the International Society for Neuroregulation and Research (ISNR). “It modulates the brain activity at the level of the neuronal dynamics of excitation and inhibition which underly the characteristic effects that are reported.”

Can neurofeedback therapy work for bicycle accident victims?

It depends.

“Research demonstrates that neurofeedback is an effective intervention for ADHD and Epilepsy,” the ISNR says. “Ongoing research is investigating the effectiveness of neurofeedback for other disorders such as Autism, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, substance abuse, TBI and other pain disorders, and is promising.”

Symptoms of a TBI, even when considered mild, can range from having feelings of anxiety to intensifying existing mental health conditions, like ADHD. While results from neurofeedback have been encouraging and show success, it’s still important to seek out a professional opinion.

“Training with neurofeedback can occasionally result in adverse response(s) that temporarily increases symptoms which are typically associated with relaxation and calming of the central nervous system such as fatigue, headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, irritability, moodiness, weeping, insomnia, agitation, and difficulties with focus and anxiety,” the ISNR says. “These reactions, if they occur, are temporary and typically only last 24-48 hours. Once clients/patients become more relaxed and aware, they tend to integrate past emotional issues and these symptoms subside.”

Neurofeedback is increasingly becoming the subject of neuroresearch. In 2020, a University of Rochester meta-analysis of brain and behavioral outcomes in 17 studies stated that the therapy “has a moderate sized impact on the targeted brain region(s) during training, which increases in magnitude when the neurofeedback signal is not provided.”

Like others, the researchers call for additional studies to focus on how effective the treatment may be for patients.