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Burke Lennihan R.N., C.C.H.
Burke Lennihan R.N., C.C.H.

Healing Cognitive and Emotional Effects of Head Injuries

Natural medicines can help, even for depression and suicidal ideation.

Whether you have a toddler who keeps toppling over, an older child playing soccer and hockey, or a teen on the football team, you’re probably concerned about the dangers of head injuries. In a recent study published in Brain, 68 of 80 former athletes showed signs of brain damage from past blows to the head (known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).[1]

Dr. Robert C. Cantu of Boston University, one of the physicians involved with the study, recommends that his patients avoid TV, cellphones, computers, bright lights, reading, homework, and classes.[2] That’s tough for a teen and impossible for most working adults. Fortunately, natural medicines can offer symptom relief and a faster recovery.

First, though, let’s talk about prevention. I work with chiropractors at the Lydian Center for Innovative Medicine in Cambridge, Mass., and we see a lot of people with serious head injuries, including kids who’ve had to miss many months of school from a concussion.

Dr. Cantu, author of the new book Concussion and Our Kids,[3] recommends that kids under 14 avoid sports that could cause a head injury because their brains are still developing. However, based on the lasting damage I’ve seen to the brains of adults as well as children, I would recommend that everyone avoid contact sports until these sports ban heading the ball in soccer, body checking in hockey, and head contact in football.

The next best is making sure your child wears a helmet, including while biking. Even a helmet may not be enough, though. I saw a young boy recently with major cognitive and even emotional problems after he was struck in the head by a hockey puck—even though he was wearing a helmet.

Given that we cannot totally protect our children against head injuries, it’s wise to keep on hand Arnica, natural medicine that can work quickly to reduce swelling inside the skull.[4] Every soccer mom and football dad should carry this remedy to all games and practices. It’s also the first thing to do for a toddler who has fallen and bumped her head, or a baby who has wiggled off the changing table while your back is turned. Place a couple of pellets in the child’s mouth and tell her to suck on them or dissolve them in a little water for the baby.

You’ll then need to assess whether to seek medical help quickly. Definitely seek help if the child loses consciousness, shows signs of mental confusion, or is twitching or shaking. When in doubt, in the case of a head injury, always seek medical help.

Give Arnica too, though, because conventional medicine is great at diagnosis, but apparently not always effective at treating concussions, given the many clients we see with long-term effects of head injuries. (We actually see adults whose bodies still carry the effects of falling off the changing table as babies decades before!)

Also, it’s very important to take your child to a chiropractor any time there’s a head injury or a bad fall. The expense is well worth it as a few treatments right away can save a lot of suffering for your child in the long run.

If these long-term effects do show up, they can still be resolved with natural medicines (homeopathy). A study in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation[5] demonstrated the effectiveness of homeopathic medicines in mild traumatic brain injury which had lasted more than six months, the point at which conventional physicians start saying, “You’ll just have to learn to live with it.”

The effects may be in the realm of thinking (memory, attention, speech) or emotions (including sudden personality or behavior changes). These behavior changes may include irritability, anger, even aggression towards siblings, most likely because the soft tissue swelling of the brain inside the fixed compartment of the skull causes inescapable pain. As one of my head-injury clients kept saying, “Mommy, my brain hurts.”

While a chronic condition like this is best treated by a professional homeopath, you could try one of the following remedies for your child if it matches well. Giving a single dose of a 30c potency (strength) once a week is a typical dosage for chronic conditions, stopping if the child is significantly better (doesn’t need it anymore) or worse (it’s too strong for him, but he’ll improve steadily once you stop it.) Here are some top remedies, the ones used in the study of mild traumatic brain injury:

Nat sulph (a nickname for Natrum sulphuricum) is best when there are sudden changes in mood, thinking, and/or personality, possibly including extreme mood swings, depression, even suicidal thoughts. (And yes, sadly, I have had child-clients who have talked about wanting to kill themselves.) This remedy is likely to help the professional football players who become suicidal in their retirement, and also the war vets who become depressed and suicidal.

In my own practice, I saw a child who had been taken to many doctors and specialists with conflicting diagnoses or the admission that they could not find anything wrong. The latest diagnosis, when I saw him, was bipolar disorder, but his mother kept insisting that it could not possibly be bipolar disorder as his rages and mood swings had come on suddenly within 24 hours of a head injury. Nat. sulph. provided immediate relief to his “hurt brain,” helped him focus on his schoolwork like the good student he had always been, and thereby relieved his frustration and his rages. A referral to the chiropractor in my office revealed that the blow to his forehead had been in the exact same spot as an injury four years earlier, and chiropractic treatment completed this little boy’s road to health.[6]

Hypericum is used when there is damage to the spinal cord or nerves. It’s nerve pain if it feels like it’s shooting along a thin line, the path of the nerve. (Here’s another tip: Hypericum is also used for the headache you get after an epidural or spinal tap).

Belladonna is used for head injuries, and indeed any situation (ear infections, fevers) when the person’s face is red, the pupils are dilated, they may feel hot to the touch, and they may speak nonsense or act agitated or even aggressive.

Helleborus is used in any situation (such as after a head injury or stroke) when the person seems dull, dazed, and confused, responding very slowly as if it takes a very long time for your remark to penetrate. They act as if they are in their own world rather than interacting with loved ones. This makes it a wonderful medicine for elderly people in a nursing home who are in their own world, perhaps due to a stroke.

There are many more possible remedies, though, and you don’t want to experiment too long on your own. You could try giving a dose of the best-matching remedy in a 30c potency once a week for three or four weeks. Then, if there’s no improvement, it’s time to find a professional homeopath to get the full benefits of these gentle yet powerful natural medicines.


[1] McKee A, Stein TD, Nowinsi CJ et al. The spectrum of disease in chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Brain December 2, 2012: doi:10.1093/brain/aws307

[2] Quoted in Weintraub, Karen. Kids may take longer to heal from a concussion. Boston Globe, Jan. 14, 2013.

[3]Cantu, R. Concussions and Our Kids: America’s Leading Expert on How to Protect Young Athletes and Keep Sports Safe (2012) Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

[4] Arnica’s ability to reduce swelling, bruising, and inflammation has been extensively documented. To find the research in one place, see and search for Arnica.

[5] Chapman, E, Weintraub, R, Milburn, M, et al., Homeopathic Treatment of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial, Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 14,6, Dec, 1999, 521-542.

[6] The overdiagnosis of bipolar disorder in children has been well described in Dr. Stuart Kaplan’s Your Child Does Not Have Bipolar Disorder (Praeger, 2011). In Dr. Kaplan’s experience, children diagnosed with bipolar disorder are actually suffering from the “less trendy” diagnosis of ADHD—or just exhibiting typical childhood behavior. At the Lydian Center for Innovative Medicine in Cambridge, Mass. the team of chiropractors and homeopaths have seen a number of cases of sudden personality change in a child following a head injury that has been misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder.

About the Author
Burke Lennihan R.N., C.C.H.

Burke Lennihan, the author of Your Natural Medicine Cabinet, is a former health food storeowner and a holistic practitioner at the Lydian Center for Innovative Medicine in Cambridge.

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