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If you think you've suffered a brain injury, this page seeks to help you out. Photo: Ryan Miller

Protect Ya Neck (And Head)

Stab’s free guide to brain injuries, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

features // Jul 17, 2021
Words by Jed Smith
Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you haven’t forked out the money for the paywall then you would have missed my deep dive on brain injuries in surfing. It is imperative that the information contained within the article makes it out to the broader surfing community so our editorial team has decided to make some of the most important facts public.

The reason I felt the need to go deep on brain injuries in surfing, apart from the fact it affects some of the sports biggest names (Owen Wright, Albee Layer, Sterling Spencer, and Alex Gray, to name a few) is because I’ve suffered somewhere between 12 and 30 concussions of varying severity in my life—ranging from a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, to a broken jaw, three concussions that left me unconscious for a handful of seconds, and who knows how many whiplash injuries from surfing and the collision sports I grew up playing (if you want to know how and why one poor sod can ruck up this many head injuries before the age of 22 click here—and cough up, c**t).

As you might expect, the consequences have been devastating. Chronic anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and an increased chance of developing some kind of neurodegenerative disease like CTE, Alsheimers, or Parkinson’s later in life are the main ones. It’s also forced me down a path of attempting to heal my brain. Using my training as a journalist, I’ve delved deep into the available scientific literature, various podcasts and books, and spoken with leading experts in the field of brain science, brain health and brain injury rehabilitation. This is what I’ve learned:

A Common Misconception
Many believe that concussions are primarily the result of a blow to the head, which in turn causes the brain to rattle around in the skull. In fact, this is just one type of concussion, known as a contrecoup concussion, and possibly not even the most common.

Equally common, if not more, especially when it applies to surfing, are “acceleration deceleration” injuries to the nervous system, also known as whiplash.

 “A lot of people think concussion is caused from hitting your head, and your brain hitting against your skull. That is referred to as a coup contrecoup injury,” explains leading brain injury and rehabilitation specialist, Brett Jarosz, who guided Owen Wright through his recovery.

“That can happen of course, but a lot of recent research is investigating the mechanism of an acceleration deceleration injury to your nervous system, just like a whiplash,” he says

“Because your head is on your neck that moves in various directions, it’s the rotational acceleration effect through the head and neck that’s starting to appear as a significant injurious factor in these head injuries,” he says.

 This “acceleration deceleration” effect, or whiplash (to the neck) as it’s commonly known, is incredibly common in surfing. A buildup of minor brain injuries in quick succession can be just as detrimental, if not more, than one big blow. What scientists don’t know is how much force is required in an acceleration deceleration mechanism of injury to cause brain damage. The amount of force required to cause a concussion injury is suggested to be between 80 and 160 g-forces—the equivalent of an average tackle in American football. That amount of force doesn’t have to be delivered to your head via solid matter, however, like a surfboard, or fist, or lump of reef. It could also be a wave detonating on the water above your head while duck diving.  “The question becomes what are the g forces that some of these waves are imparting when they detonate on the reef?” asks Jarosz.

No one has an answer for that yet. Though it’s safe to assume the 10 or 12 footer that landed on Owen’s head at Pipeline and caused his most serious brain injury was well beyond 80 to 160 g-forces.

The Best Free Resources on Brain Injury, Health And Rehabilitation:
The first rule is to expect to spend some money to get the information and help you need. As sad as it is, dropping ten bucks on a paywall so you can read a single article is a drop in the ocean of what you’re about to spend in order to understand what’s going on in your brain. But let’s start with some of the best and cheapest resources available when it comes to diagnosing and treating brain injuries.

 • The cheapest and best resource I’ve come across in my two years of exhaustive research into how to heal the brain is the book, The Concussion Repair Manual, by Dr Dan Engel. Engel, who also has an extensive history of head injuries, including a severe concussion and broken neck incurred in a diving accident, has put together something of a bible of brain injury recovery techniques. Easy to read, it covers all the available treatments, all of them backed up by the most reliable data and scientific research available, and complete with stories of extreme cases who’ve benefited from them. One of the real bonuses of this book is you learn how capable the brain is of repair, based on the available science, and just how many incredible success stories are out there when it comes to recovering from brain injury, most of whom began their journey in a far darker place than you. It’s a must read for anyone who thinks they’ve received even a single concussion, because that can be all it takes. You can also listen to him on the Joe Rogan podcast here

 • There are several more must-hear podcasts in the emerging field of brain injury, health and rehabilitation. The podcasting iconoclast, Joe Rogan, himself a victim of numerous head injuries from his days as a fighter, has been Goliath in this space. Start with his interviews with Dr Mark Gordon alongside former Green Beret, Andrew Marr. There’s three episodes in total and they’re all worth a go. Start with the most recent first, and work your way back through the second and first.

Also think about accessing Mark and Andrew’s game changing, brain healing supplement regime.

 • Still on podcasts, Amy Zelmer’s Faces of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) podcast is an incredible resource and must-listen if you want to stay up to date with breaking news in the constantly updating study of brains, brain injuries, and their ability to heal.

• I also recommend tracking down anything featuring Daniel ‘Car Bomb’ Carcillo, the two-time Stanley Cup winning NHL star, and sufferer of multiple TBIs. This one via Psychedelics Today is a really good place to start. His plant-medicine, post-concussion protocol is exceptional and I’ve followed it to a tee with significant results. Dan Carcillo, along with several other high profile athletes who have suffered serious brain injuries (Snowboarder, Kevin Pearse, AFL player, Koby Stevens, among others) will also feature in Owen Wright’s documentary on brain injury and recovery, due out early in 2022. It goes without saying that it will be a must-see.

• It turns out plant medicines such as Psilocybin mushrooms, Lions Mane mushrooms, Reishi mushrooms, and CBD oil might be among the most effective treatments for brain health, mental health, and brain injuries. At least it’s proved so for UFC Hall-of-Famer, Rashad Evans, and former heavyweight, champ, Mike Tyson. Both are passionate psychonauts who’ve benefitted to no end from plant medicines. Listen here.

• For a more scientific take on the benefits of plan medicines such as Psilocybin mushrooms in stimulating all-important nerve growth in the brain, known as neurogenesis, as well as breaking the circuit of anxiety and depression, listen to Joe Rogan’s interviews (particularly the first one) with the world’s leading mycologist, Paul Stametz.

• PTSD is often the bedfellow of brain injury and there’s been incredible movement in that space too, courtesy of the tireless work of Rick Doblin and his organisation, MAPS. Learn more about it from the Pod-GOAT, Joe Rogan.

Leading medical professionals in the field of Brain Injury and Rehabilitation:

 • So this is the part that costs money but if you’ve spent years suffering through anxiety, depression, emotional instability, and the various other symptoms of brain injury, you’ll agree it’s worth the spend. As we’ve learned from Owen Wright and Becca Speak’s journeys, the so-called best doctors and neurologists in the world are getting it wrong when it comes to brain injury diagnosis and treatment, let alone your average hospital or doctor’s clinic. The following doctors and clinics are the ones getting it right.

• In Australia, Brett Jarosz, and his team are the go-to for all those in Victoria. Brett is responsible for getting Owen to 96% functional capacity and preventing him from quitting surfing altogether in 2019, after he suffered a further three devastating concussions, on top of the one in 2015 that forced him to have to learn to walk again. The NSW equivalent is Eric Hansen and his team. In California, it’s the Newport Brain Trauma Center. If you know of others elsewhere, leave them in our comments section or DM us on Instagram and we’ll update the story as they come in.

• In the meantime, do your own research and focus your search for leading medical professionals around football teams, soccer teams, leading boxing and MMA gyms, all of whom are at a high risk of developing the dreaded neurodegenerative condition, CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

• Bookmark this page and we’ll keep updating it as more information comes to live. Best of luck and let us know how you go. 

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