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 In Brain, Brain Injury, Stroke

Movement Benefits Brain PatientsMovement and exercise is an important part of rehabilitation from many conditions. A new study out of Cleveland Clinic’s Neurointensive Care Unit finds that the benefits of activity may also extend to patients recovering from brain injuries caused by strokes or seizures. Kate Klein, a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic, undertook the study after noticing many patients at the Clinic benefited from moving around early in their hospital stay, but patients with neurological injuries were primarily confined to their beds. Klein’s research revealed that brain injury patients can benefit from physical activity shortly after hospitalization. The study may lead to more effective therapies for brain injury patients.

Studies show that movement benefits recovery in several ways: it increases circulation, speeds recovery, and reduces swelling, inflammation, and the risk of clots. Despite these benefits, it is common practice to require brain injury patients to rest. Because the injured brain is at risk for reduced blood flow, clinicians believed rest to be the best course of action. The study is the first to examine whether movement is safe and beneficial for brain injury patients.

For a year, Klein worked with 600 patients hospitalized for brain injury. More than half of the patients she oversaw were active early in their hospitalization—some as soon as the first day.

Early activity benefited the patients. Patients who started rehabilitation early spent less time in the ICU and in the hospital overall. They experienced fewer pressure ulcers and fewer infections. These patients also reported feeling better compared to patients who were not active.

Getting out of bed shortly after an injury may be particularly beneficial because of the brain’s neuroplasticity. Studies of animals show that the brain has increased neuroplasticity immediately after an injury. If this is also true for humans, then early rehabilitation improves the chances of a full recovery. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to rewire itself, which is particularly important when a part of the brain has been damaged. Early rehabilitation may speed this process.

This research was reported by NPR.

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