HomeNewsArticle Display

Military brain injury expert: Everyone’s ability to recover is different

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Maj. Michael Matchette, 332nd Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron radiologist, reviews CT scans from a trauma patient to determine the severity of the injuries at the Air Force Theater Hospital here, Feb. 20. The CT scan process goes directly from the scanning machine to the computer, which allows doctors to diagnose medical problems faster. Major Matchette is deployed from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by/ Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

Maj. Michael Matchette, a 332nd Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron radiologist, reviews CT scans from a trauma patient to determine the severity of the injuries at the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad Air Base, Iraq, Feb. 20, 2016. The CT scan process goes directly from the scanning machine to the computer, which allows doctors to diagnose medical problems faster. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) -- Every brain is different. We know this because each person’s brain develops with a unique personality. But the brain as an organ even differs from person to person, and reacts uniquely to injury.

“I know that if I examine a 28-year-old woman’s sprained ankle, it will look and function pretty much the same as an ankle on another woman of about the same age, height and weight who does about the same activities,” said Dr. Heechin Chae, director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) satellite office at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

NICoE is one of nine special centers within the Military Health System that treat those suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI). “The brain is so much more complex and difficult to study,” Chae said. “Even if a CT scan or MRI image looks the same between two brains, how each of those brains functions is totally different. You can’t predict recovery as easily.”

Brain injuries affect everyone differently as well.

“About 10 percent of people who hit their head, even in a mild way, will have chronic symptoms, such as headaches and sleep issues that can exceed a month,” said Dr. Anthony Panettiere, a clinical neurologist with the NICoE at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “Our focus here at NICoE is figuring out why some of these people still have symptoms months to years out.”

Most of the brain injuries suffered by U.S. military members are mild TBIs, better known as concussions. It’s a temporary disruption of normal brain function lasting for a few minutes to a few hours. But, Chae said, “There are certain injuries to the brain, whether you get hit or have bleeding in the brain, which disrupt normal function permanently. When you never have a moment after the injury when you feel back to normal, it’s not a concussion or mild TBI.”

Chae said even with mild, temporary TBIs, another issue is the cumulative effects of repeated injuries. The brain is still vulnerable, and the ability to withstand further trauma, whether a physical blow or a mentally stressing event, is diminished. When the brain is injured during this vulnerable state, the recovery is slower and even more unpredictable.

“Even after a person with a concussion feels normal again, many lose the ability to withstand these types of injuries for the next few days or weeks,” he said, adding it’s important to protect the brain from another injury during this vulnerable period. Also, during this time, the brain loses the ability to handle daily pressures it used to handle well.

“It’s not the concussion itself that is the problem,” he said. “But the brain goes through a period when the ability to handle what we call ’normal life stressors’ diminishes dramatically.”

What also makes it difficult to recognize a mild TBI is the brain’s ability to hide injuries -- its resiliency -- so how you feel might not match how much damage has been done and how vulnerable the brain really is. That’s why the military is transitioning people back to their normal routines at a slower pace.

“As doctors, we’re trained if people feel normal after bonking their heads, they have recovered. We base our decision on the patient’s report,” Chae said. “But what we’re learning with the brain is that there’s a discrepancy between how you feel and vulnerability of the brain. Even if someone feels normal, we don’t put them back to work or in play right away, just like how football teams have instituted a concussion protocol, when players are kept out of practices and games, even if they say they feel OK.”

Panettiere said all head trauma is important. “It doesn’t take much of a hit to the head to be a concern, but fortunately, for most people, the symptoms will eventually resolve in time.”

Chae said the science is getting better, ironically helped by the fact the military environment has provided many cases to study, just like how battlefield conditions advanced medicine in general.

“We’re hoping our knowledge and attitudes toward brain injuries will evolve as we know more about the brain and as the science improves,” he said.

Engage

Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: A/SecAF Roth, @USAirForce Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. (@GenCQBrownJr) & @SpaceForceDoD Chief of Space Operations G…
Twitter
RT @HQ_AFMC: Are you ready to #FlyAFM at this year's @AFmarathon?! Lace up your running shoes to kick-off the @usairforce 75th Birthday yea…
Twitter
.@DyessAFBase #Airmen tested out the new Two-Piece Undergarment Universal Integrative Ensemble protective suit to a… https://t.co/zid66FUb4w
Twitter
#ICYMI: #AirForce uniform updates; these include immediate wear of the tactical OCP duty hat and updates to duty un… https://t.co/CRkZJwjj1f
Twitter
.@HQUSAFEAFAF #Airmen are participating in Exercise African Lion 21. This is @USAfricaCommand's largest annual join… https://t.co/cugb24dAJ0
Twitter
RT @USAFCENT: #ICYMI Check out the @386thAEW supporting the #ResponsibleExit of U.S. forces from #Afghanistan. https://t.co/I7T814lOrp
Twitter
As part of the AIM HIGH Flight Academy, students flew on a KC-135 during a routine refueling mission. This program… https://t.co/em8KGDqfwK
Twitter
RT @AETCommand: Developing & fostering strategic partnerships helps improve interoperability between our nations! Check it out how the @97A
Twitter
RT @NORADCommand: NORAD needs to present credible, reliable, and globally integrated deterrence to protect Canada and the United States. #W
Twitter
Special Tactics operators participated in @AirMobilityCmd's Mobility Guardian 21 at Volk Field, Wisconsin. The team… https://t.co/28vQ4yuNcI
Twitter
Happy Birthday @USArmy! For 246 years, Soldiers with the U.S. Army have safeguarded our country from enemies forei… https://t.co/hTdJOpngQI
Twitter
RT @AETCommand: The @DoDEA approved Maxwell Elementary Middle School @MaxwellAFB as the first site for a four-year pilot program to open en…
Twitter
#Airmen and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft operating out of Morón Air Base, Spain, are demonstrating U.S. commitment… https://t.co/mVoSP7Rv9O
Twitter
The #AirForce Service Center launched a new website to serve as a single point of information for #Airmen,… https://t.co/k8VrbtpoP7
Twitter
RT @AFmuseum: Check out this view of the McDonnell XH-20 Little Henry, Bensen X-25A Gyrocopter and the American Helicopter Co. XH-26 Jet Je…
Twitter
.@AirNatlGuard #Airmen helped build Cherokee #veterans homes in Oklahoma as part of the @DeptofDefense's Innovative… https://t.co/9i0p5CgLER
Twitter
.@POTUS to #Airmen during his visit to @RAFMildenhall: "You’re the best of our country. Less than 1% of Americans… https://t.co/VlmUkvizpY
Twitter
RT @HQ_AFMC: High energy lasers kill one target at a time, & high powered microwaves can kill groups or swarms, which is one reason that TH…
Twitter
Check out the latest #AirForce Week in Photos! Which one is your favorite? See the rest at https://t.co/PUTukgX3Qe https://t.co/bWyy06fZ3k
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,346,705
Follow Us