Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery Exercises

 TBI Recovery Exercises can Often Be Started Immediately After The Injury

Physical exercising after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be extremely difficult to do. Your brain injury recovery process will require professional advice. You may even find it hard to do simple things like walking. Even standing may require learning balance exercises. But the sooner you get started the better.

TBI Senior Rehab

Brain Side Effects and Long Term Effects Of TBI That An Exercise Routine May Help

The blood pressure and blood flow that come with the exercise routine help nourish the blood flowing to your brain injury. Brain injury recovery for most patients requires mental and physical exercise.

After a brain injury, performing activities of self-care is often a source of good brain exercise.

A person does not have to do high-intensity movement to get the benefits of good exercise. Regular physical activity can help the brain, it helps to improve mood, and improving balance exercises are a fun way to improve strength, just as much as strength training.

The brain can be injured and it can happen in many ways. Not getting proper care including an exercise routine could contribute to any number of additional challenges such as CONCUSSION, TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY, mTBI ULTIMATE REHABILITATION GUIDE: Your holistic manual for traumatic brain injury rehabilitation and care

  • Balance problems

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

  • Tremors (A tremor is a rhythmic shaking movement in one or more parts of your body. It is involuntary, meaning that you cannot control it. This shaking happens because of muscle contractions. A tremor is most often in your hands, but it could also affect your arms, head, vocal cords, trunk, and legs.)


  • Dystonia is a movement disorder in which your muscles contract involuntarily, causing repetitive or twisting movements. The condition can affect one part of your body (focal dystonia), two or more adjacent parts (segmental dystonia), or all parts of your body (general dystonia)


  • Dysphagia (is difficulty swallowing — taking more time and effort to move food or liquid from your mouth to your stomach. Dysphagia can be painful. In some cases, swallowing is impossible.)

  • Hemiplegia / hemiparesis (Hemiparesis is a mild or partial weakness or loss of strength on one side of the body. Hemiplegia is a severe or complete loss of strength or paralysis on one side of the body.)

  • Spasticity (Spasticity is abnormal muscle tightness due to prolonged muscle contraction. It is a symptom associated with damage to the brain, spinal cord, or motor nerves, and is seen in individuals with neurological conditions.)

  • Contractures

  • Foot drop (Foot drop, sometimes called drop foot, is a general term for difficulty lifting the front part of the foot.)

  • Memory loss

TBI free weight exercises

When you choose to perform activities and do exercise regardless of the difficulty or your current level of fitness, then your brain and your body will thank you. Exercise is even good for improving your chances of not having heart disease.

Even playing board games is mental and physical exercise. Doing crossword puzzles is a great brain exercise. In fact, a brain injury may benefit from even doing eye movement exercise just as much as doing aerobic exercise.

Brain Injury Recovery

Physical activity is key. Strength training and/or doing a light resistance band is a great physical activity to help brain injury recovery to happen faster. It can not be stressed enough that little physical activities like standing on one leg are great exercise (be sure when you do this exercise you have support from a family member who is strong enough to support you doing this physical activity and it is vital to not be on an unstable surface.

Cognitive function and Cognitive Exercises

Exercise to do ‘strength training for your brain. You can use an app like Luminosity or just do jigsaw and mind-bending puzzles. Brain injury recovery requires that you help your brain to rewire and that is how you overcome a brain injury. Your brain injury my win some battles, but your brain injury will not win the war if you surround yourself with the right team of professional TBI providers.

Reading is a cognitive function that qualifies as one of the mild cognitive exercises. Making your brain injury recovery journey a fun exercise is smart because you will need to do several types of physical activity to keep the brain guessing and not allow your brain to fall into a habit because that is not pushing your cognitive therapy or maximizing the cognitive exercises.

Measured Challenges To Your Brain Is Good Exercise

Just like the body, your brain injury recovery requires the right kind of physical activity. Exercise for the body allows for nutrients to flow throughout the body and you gain strength from strength training and your brain injury recovery process needs exercise for the same reason.

An important part of the exercise is rest. Your best brain injury recovery support activity is the proper amount of rest. Rest is key. Movement is key. Having the confidence that your brain injury does not define you and that you are more than your brain injury.

If you feel pain, don’t risk other injuries. Getting some rest is key. You can also do static stretches to do a warm down after using resistance bands, but it is important that your exercise options do not lead to another type of injury.

Physical exercise that works your balance muscles can often cause pain even if it is a light exercise. Brain injuries are the type of injury that drains you physically and mentally.

one leg balance exercise

Most people are not aware of the difficulty of any level of fitness exercises after head trauma.

For example, it may be easy for a patient to use a resistance band one day, and the next day that very same exercise may feel like it is a matter of life and death to the patient. The physical ability to exercise has the goal to improve strength and muscles, but the mental difficulty is such an extreme difficulty that the patient may feel like passing out.

Another example of an exercise for a TBI patient’s life is the constant battle to have balance. The ability to be confident that with any physical movement they won’t lose their balance and have another injury. It’s taxing on their already injured brain.

But they must continue to exercise because the benefits of the practice outweigh the negatives. Brain trauma patients experience atrophy in their muscles and exercise helps the brain and body to get the benefits of the exercise movement.

Does it Help To Be In Shape Before An Injury?

A person’s level of fitness before the brain injury may or may not help. Depending on the level of the injury, the muscles may be able to recover because the movement is familiar to the body if the person was already a fitness exercise person. But learning to balance while sitting, balance while walking, balance while standing or any type of body movement can be a big task.

Even something as simple as sitting down and getting back up, an upright position will help strengthen your muscles and bones, improve posture.

The process of getting involved in several exercises should be supervised and done as soon as possible, but at a pace that makes sense for the level of injury you have.

Balance problems require exercises for balance training because a traumatic brain injury impacts cognitive function, mental health, neuroplasticity. So you can work to maintain balance in your recovery and to improve muscle groups and cognitive impairment you will want to do combinations of the following:

  • Speech therapy

  • Cognitive exercises

  • Physical activity (any type of physical activities count)

  • Cognitive therapy

Some Additional Exercises:

  • Turning the head for balance (regaining balance and overcoming balance problems is evidence of the brain’s neuroplasticity at work.)

  • Getting back onto your feet with some help from someone holding onto your hand (this will require less energy if you have someone else hold your hand)

  • Standing on one foot with assistance from someone holding onto your hand (this will only be more difficult if there are stairs or other obstacles involved)

  • Physical Moving around (including walking with assistance)

  • Lifting/carrying things while balancing on one foot with assistance from someone holding onto your hand

  • Flexibility exercises

  • Aerobic exercise

  • Free weights

  • Tai chi

In addition to these physical activity exercises, you may want to learn how to play tennis, golf, or other sports that require balance. If this is not possible, start learning how to do them by watching TV events or a really great option is to do is Virtual Reality for TBI recovery. Note: VR can cause balance issues for people without a brain injury so never do virtual reality without proper supervision and any and all activities should be approved by your medical team.

Once they’re familiarized with how these games work, set aside time each week where you take lessons or practice at home and bring some friends along too. You can also practice at home with an aide or volunteer who is trained in TBI rehabilitation.

TBI Stretching

Begin Slow, But You Must Begin Somewhere So Get Started

While balance exercises may seem like an easy way of getting back into a high-impact activity like tennis or golf after TBI without experiencing any significant fatigue, physical therapists often recommend that people begin slowly instead so that they learn how their body reacts in different situations without losing too much muscle strength during recovery.

People who have TBI frequently need sedation when exercising because their muscles are still recovering from rigorous exercise; however, sedation will not stop them from performing daily activities such as walking after TBI; sedation does allow them to stay at home longer so they have more time before having to return to physical therapy.

A good way of starting TBI rehabilitation exercises is by picking up some books on traumatic brain injuries such as Understanding Your Brain After Traumatic Brain Injury.

chair exercises

TBI Recovery Exercises and Lifestyle Change Are Essential For Recovery

TBI is a major health risk, and it is oftentimes a completely preventable situation, but there are many times when it is just a daily life physical activity that leads to the injury.

There is nothing more important than making sure that people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) will recover as quickly as possible. If we want to reduce the consequences of TBI, we need to increase the speed at which TBI victims can recover.

The recovery process can be broken down into three stages:

• Preventive care: This is rehabbing the to repair damage caused by injury.

• Therapeutic care: This is rehabbing the body to restore lost functions.

• Proper rehabilitation: This is rehabbing the to restore lost functions, and restoring physical and intellectual abilities.

Always Proceed With Caution

It’s also important for people with TBI not to wait for medical assistance when they are first injured or suddenly find themselves unable to perform tasks for longer than a few hours at a time due to TBI-related issues.

People with TBI should participate in home exercises so they can return everything they learned in therapy. In addition, you should make sure you are recovering your balance and coordination before starting any physical activity.

If you have been injured then you need some time off from activities that require balance and coordination; and lastly, you should use the medications prescribed by your doctor even if they are not necessary for your recovery (e.g., painkillers).

When in doubt consult your doctor or therapist regarding any treatment plan that suits your needs best.

TBI Exercises Should be initially Supervised and Progressed As Quickly As Possible

The research on TBI recovery is still evolving, and some of the old exercises that used to be standard practice have now been discovered that they are not best for TBIs. The cognitive rehabilitation exercises that have been shown to be very effective for TBI patients have mostly been covered in this article, but here they are again:

  • Balance and core exercises

  • Memory Exercises

  • Motor learning strategies (e.g., motor imagery)

  • Neuroplasticity exercises

  • Functional movements (e.g., arm function)

  • Motor coordination exercises

TBI Memory Exercises Can Be Done Seated at Home

Traumatic brain injury survivors must take care of their mental health as much as their physical well-being. Brain injury can lead to depression and the stresses of depression and anxiety may hinder your recovery progress.

Neuroplasticity brain injury recovery exercises can

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reprogram itself, and TBI is the result of a poorly-controlled injury. Neuroplasticity exercises are important for improving your overall function and neurochemistry.

The list of benefits to movement and exercises for mental, emotional, and physical well-being is practically endless. 


  •  Checkers
  • Video games

  • Socializing
  • Learning new skills

  • Increasing vocabulary

  • Learning a language
  • Listening to music

  • Musical instruments

  • Engaging hobbies
  • Arm Exercises

  • Seated Shoulder Press

  • Seated Front Shoulder Raises
  • Seated Chest Press

  • Modified Push-Ups

  • Seated Bicep Curls

  • Isolated Tricep Extensions

TBI PT Exercise Chart
  • Knee-to-Chest

  • Extended Leg Raises

  • Leg Kicks

  • Modified Planks

  • Tummy Twists

  • Sit-to-Stands

  • Modified Squats

  • Knee Extensions

  • Heel Slides

  • Seated Calf Raises

  • Neck Turns

  • Seated Backbend

  • Seated Overhead Stretch

  • Seated Side Stretch

  • Seated Hip Stretch

  • Towel scrunches (barefoot on a towel and use toes to scrunch up the towel)

  • Seated Super Man -hold arms above head like Super Man flying

  • hand pushing against hand

  • hand pushing against leg as leg resists

  • Eye blinking

Here are a number of things to do that we found online, but it is only the beginning:

  • Visualizing more

  • Playing games

  • Card games

  • Crosswords

  • Puzzles

  • Sudoku

  • Dancing

  • Sports

  • Tai chi

  • Sleeping

  • Chess

cognitive exercise board game
“Texas residents are fortunate because there are a number of TBI providers that have a great reputation and track record of helping people recover. In fact, there are a number of facilities that have people travel from all across the US to come to their inpatient and outpatient residential care because they realize that to get the best care it is worth it to travel.”

TBI is a life changing event. It is life changing for the injured patient as well as for the family member closest to the TBI patient. But the value of each and every exercise on a daily basis as tolerated can not be understated. Of course, if you have broken bones or some other type of disease control concerns, then it is important to take that into consideration when choosing which exercise to do.

The ability for recovery has often been stated as miraculous. Small victories each day start to add up and that is how big victories occur. The family support and the team you select to go with you on your recovery are major factors in your recovery.

You can think of your TBI recovery team as your coaches because they can guide you on the ‘field of life’ to run the plays that you don’t know yet, but they do, and when you follow their guidance that is when you get to score and win the recovery game.

Traumatic brain injury recovery is a journey. You will want to have the right ‘tour guide’ in order to achieve optimal recovery.

If you have questions regarding the information provided here please reach out to us by email. Please understand that this is not medical advice and it is vital that you consult with your qualified medical provider before engaging in any type of movement or exercise even if it is as simple as a resistance band or even a card game. Each patient has their own set of circumstances and the strain of any cognitive exercises or physical activity that is fine for one individual may be harmful to another. So be sure to consult with your medical team before you try anything other than what they have already shared with you.

We hope this has benefits for you and your loved ones.

About The Author

Tiffany Dyar

Tiffany Dyar is the former Executive Director for The Center for Health Innovation & Implementation Science, and the former Program Manager at Regenstrief Institute.Tiffany has co-authored several medical publications including The American Journal of Critical Care  Journal of General Internal Medicine Trials Journal  Best Practices in Mental Health  & The New England Journal of Medicine

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