Dale Earnhardt Jr., a celebrity NASCAR driver from 2000 to 2017 who’s now a NBC Sports announcer, suffered 12-18 concussions throughout his professional racing career.
Earnhardt got his first concussion in 1998 but it wasn’t until a crash in 2012 that he decided he needed to seek help and was referred to Dr. Michael Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who has treated Sidney Crosby and other high-level professional athletes.
Earnhardt recalls getting “a ton of homework” and several therapeutic exercises to do.
“Some of them were really hard to do, some of them were mundane and simple, but it was all really about head motion and head movement, walking and turning a corner in a hallway, bending over to pick something up, all of those things we take for granted.”
He felt fine for a few years, but his concussion symptoms returned in 2016 four weeks after a hard crash at Michigan. Earnhardt, however, didn’t think the crash and symptoms were related.
“It’s such a cliche. I would say ‘I rung my bell’ and we didn’t think nothing of it.”
Weeks after the accident, when he realized he had all the symptoms of a head injury, Earnhardt returned to Dr. Collins and was sidelined from racing for six months. During that time Earnhardt continued to do the “homework” he was previously assigned.
Through the use of functional neurology, the evaluation and treatment of the neurological system to re-program and rehabilitate his brain, Earnhardt was able to get back to everyday life and get behind the wheel of a race car again.
Dr. Rachel Frontain works with people to rehabilitate their brains using functional neurology, which she specialized in while getting her Doctorate of Chiropractic at the University of Western States in 2017.
“We look at the visual system and the vestibular system and the proprioceptive system which is basically all of the information coming from your muscles and joints to tell your brain about where you are in space,” said Dr. Frontain.
“The brain controls every function in our body. So we start to see over time, changes in the autonomic nervous system can occur,” she added.
People can suffer from post-concussion symptoms for months or years without ever receiving the help they really need. Unlike a broken bone or a visible injury, there is nothing people suffering from post-concussion syndrome can do to express their experience with their loved ones.
“I’ll never be able to tell my wife, my co-worker, my friend, exactly what that experience is like and I can’t show them, I can’t give them something tangible,” said Earnhardt. “When they look at you they see a perfectly normal person.”