Biofeedback and Concussion
Concussions are complex. Its effects are variable, interdependent and often pervasive, impacting many neurological systems.
The impact of concussion on the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is one that has just begun to be explored. In a recent literature review on that subject, it was found that there is evidence to suggest that concussion does likely impact the function of the autonomic nervous system (Pertab et al., 2018). The mechanism of this effect may be physical, perhaps some of the structures involved in the ANS are damaged during the impact, regardless, this autonomic dysfunction likely contributes to some of the persistent symptoms and the nature of recovery. Biofeedback can be used as a tool to gain insight into, and to regulate, the ANS. Subsequently, if we can target ANS dysregulation with biofeedback, it follows that this should aid in reducing the severity or duration of some of the post-concussion symptoms. In individuals with brain injury, HRV and biofeedback training may help regulate emotion, and improve cognition (Kim et al., 2013).
The research in this field, of biofeedback and concussion, is just beginning. Concussion is currently a hot topic in research, as is biofeedback, and hopefully in a few years we will see more evidence and will be able to refine our biofeedback protocols even further. A majority of the research that looks at biofeedback and concussion, focuses on HRV. We know that HRV is likely impacted in individuals with concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (Thompson & Hagedorn, 2012). We also know that it is important to look at an individual holistically, one’s brain does not exist in isolation from one’s body, or heart. Some preliminary research has shown promising effects in positively impacting mood and emotion regulation, postconcussion symptoms, and decreasing headache severity. (Lagos, Thompson, & Vaschillo, 2013). Conder and Conder (2014) in their review of HRV and concussion, concluded that biofeedback was an effective intervention for targeting HRV after concussion, and that this would then likely have a positive impact on cognitive performance.