Every year an estimation of 1.6- 3.8 million Americans are diagnosed with sport and recreational related concussions. On the other hand, concussions aren’t limited to sport and recreation- these range from professional athletes, adventure seekers, fitness professionals, construction workers and the person next door, and aren’t limited to stunt doubles or people putting themselves in harms way. Concussions are more common than some may think and can be debilitating- especially for those used to a higher paced and/ or active lifestyle. Concussions are known to cause additional issues such as vertigo, ocular (vision), hearing, and other sensory issues. So- how do people used to an active lifestyle safely transition back to into that, and how do people new to fitness find a routine that will work with their injury and not make it worse? Before we dive into why the steel mace is a useful tool for those recovering from a concussion, we’re sharing concussion basics. 

What is a Concussion? 

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.

Source: click here

FACT: All concussions are a Traumatic Brain Injury, but not all Traumatic Brain Injuries are concussions. 

Studies are showing the traditional form of treatment— being rest, is no longer beneficial to the body. In fact, some doctors are arguing movement is medicine, and encouraging those recovering from a concussion to ease into a fitness routine that can be easily managed. 

Here’s Where the Steel Mace Comes Into Play

No matter the timeline of the injury, most doctors do not want the patient back in the gym or sports at full force. It’s a slow and steady progression. Since each concussion can vary with recovery time- and some even being diagnosed with Post Concussive Syndrome- it can be difficult for those injured, their doctors, and coaches to create a standard fitness plan. The steel mace is an incredibly customizable tool which can be integrated and used practically by everyone- even without a coach’s supervision. The steel mace creates a sense of ease for an at home and self- supervised rehabilitation exercise or a support to other occupational or physical therapies. 

What is a steel mace?

The steel mace is defined as a long tool with a “heavy head at the end of a handle” (Dictionary). It’s like a smaller barbell with a small ball at the end. This tool come in various weights starting at 5 pounds.

Photo: Jack Grooms

Photo: Jack Grooms

Benefits of Training with the Steel Mace

  • Stabilizes Muscles

  • Mental Conditioning 

  • Grip Strength 

  • Encourages Patience 

  • Applicable For Both Male and Females 

  • Encourages Proper Muscle Engagement 

  • Versatile for the Gym and Day to Day Life

Benefits of the Steel Mace For Concussions 

Reap the benefits of incorporating the steel mace into your recovery plan. This is ideal for injured civilians, fitness enthusiasts, and athletes— however, I strongly advise talking to a doctor before implementing the steel mace or any other form of exercise or treatment into a daily routine.

1. It Is Safe and Easy to Manage 

Concussion patients often have difficulty with memorization. Utilizing one piece of equipment that does not require a conversion of weight from kilograms to pounds or vise versa, already makes it easy to form a base and track progress. Remembering self-care and day to day responsibilities is enough to think about let alone adding a weight conversion and the safety of proper calculations amongst loading. Plus, most barbells can be too heavy for those with a more severe injury and/ or other musculoskeletal injuries. 

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2. Improves Memory 

Mentioned in the last point, memorization is a large part of concussion rehab- especially for those such as students, and working professionals looking to resume employment. It can be difficult recalling professional and educational related tasks again. Concussion patients need to be able to remember the steps for projects, facts, and anything else relating to their reality. The steel mace forces the user to be constantly present and connected to the steel mace with both the mind and body- similar to yoga- yet unlike most other fitness tools or programs. The steel mace challenges pattern memorization, and encourages breath awareness too, which can help calm and center the person and hone in on the exercises. 

3. Challenges the Vestibular System 

Regularly incorporating steel mace- not flows or sequences, but the basic exercises/ movements will retrain the body to be accustomed to the once familiar motions. Oftentimes the body is in shock after the trauma and creates a new movement pattern unlike what it is used to. This becomes the new “normal” and takes actively working on reversing the pattern to revert to the way the body was actually capable of naturally moving pre-injury. 

50% of concussion patients have vestibular issues. 

What is the Vestibular System? 

A part of the inner ear that acts as a miniaturized accelerometer and inertial guidance device, continually reporting information about the motions and position of the head and body to integrative centers located in the brainstem, cerebellum, and somatic sensory cortices.

Source: click here

What Does the Vestibular System Do? 

The vestibular system provides the sense of balance and the information about body position that allows rapid compensatory movements in response to both self-induced and externally generated forces.

Source: click here

What are Vestibular Issues? 

Below are a sample of the most common:

● Imbalance 

● Uncontrollable Eye Movements 

● Loss of Orientation 

4. Easy Integration for Vision Therapy 

Piggybacking off of the last point, vision limitations are another common finding in concussion related injuries. In some cases upon the trauma/ impact, the eyes are forced into adapting new movement patterns leading to eye pain and certain types of headaches, blurred vision, and eye to- object focus issues. Using a tool the individual can control 100% in movement patterns as opposed to a machine controlling speed and advancements, will help in training the eyes to learn and readjust to true and regular vision patterns. 

Photo: Jack Grooms

Photo: Jack Grooms

5. Stabilizes the Brain 

It’s important to properly challenge the mind and keep the body moving while reducing the movements and bouncing of the brain. Concussions are already due to a jolt to the brain. It’s key to be aware of creating additional unnecessary jolting of the brain as it is one of the most critical parts of any concussion rehabilitation and a top concern for anyone returning to an active lifestyle either through sport or the gym. Unlike running or even walking, the body doesn’t need to change locations and be physically moving to another place in order to utilize the full brain functions and unlock improvement. Reducing the amount of walking and running to focus on other bodily senses and increasing the tolerance, gives the brain a chance to truly rest and heal. 

Think of it like this:

When you break your arm, the doctor wraps it and places it in a protective hard cast. The skeleton essentially is acting as our brain’s cast except the brain can still move around inside this “cast”. It isn’t as stable as an arm or another bone may be because we can’t  wrap it while inside of the skull and create barriers prevent it from moving. Sometimes the slightest movement can overwhelm those recovering and lead to nausea and dizziness. This is why steel mace training is effective because there isn’t a need to run, walk, jump, or turn with it. Sure some of those can be included in a sequence but the steel mace is a tool to refer back to basics at any time.

How to Integrate the Steel Mace Into a Concussion Rehabilitation Plan: 

Disclaimer: Please consult a medical facility and licensed practitioner/ brain injury specialist prior to integrating any and all exercises. 

1. Avoid Flows and Sequences and Using this as a Workout Tool 

Stay away from steel mace flows and sequences until completely healed from a concussion and advised to resume normal to high intensity training by a licensed medical practitioner. Doctors who are hesitant in believing and recommending their concussion patients to start a fitness routine again will especially appreciate this point- the body may have been able to do it before and handle intense gym sessions, but now the body needs to ease back into things and rebuild that tolerance in a safe and manageable way for the brain. 

Did you know concussion patients are also 4-6 times more prone to a second concussion? The reduction of multi-faceted movements allows for the body to focus on one pattern at a time while reducing the risk for further injury. Throughout neurorehabilitation, the brain will be able to handle appropriately increasing difficulties. As the improvements occur, those concussed will be able to work up to performing a flow or sequence. 

Additionally, by eliminating excess movement, the brain can relax and let it’s guard down to tackle other areas it is in need of improvement. What’s great is the steel mace can be used sitting down in a chair and standing in place, allowing for the user to dedicate their full attention on the task quite literally at hand, instead of worrying about balancing or other instability, vestibular, or painful limiting factors. 

Once the basics are mastered and health permitting, flows are a great to build up to! it took me about a year to get to a base of a 3 flow routine and it’s so fun to see how I grow and know there’s more to explore and challenge myself with!

Photo: Jack Grooms

Photo: Jack Grooms

2. Start with the Basics 

Set a timer and see how long you can do each exercise for. Remember, this is when you want to perform each one slowly and with control. The objective here is not speed, weight, or time. The exercises do not need to move at lightning pace in order to be successful. In fact, when slowing down any exercise, this increases the mind- muscle connection and helps to stimulate muscles in a new way. 

Focus on:

  • Remembering how to do the move. 

  • Slowly and steadily performing the move. 

  • Repeating the exercise movement until the brain tires. 

3. Time and Tiredness 

For some concussion patients, the amount of time per exercise could be as minimal as 10- 30 seconds which is perfectly okay! Every body will react differently to the movement patterns and will need to increase their exposure in order to develop a tolerance to these limitations. A good starting point is that 10- 30 second window and building to 10 minutes of consecutive movement/ repetition with an exercise. 

  • Some days may vary in time. 

  • Try not to be discouraged on the days with less time than others. 

  • The key is to find a time variable to consecutively perform the exercises.

EXAMPLE: 30 Second exercise for 30 Days before increasing to 40, 60, or 90 seconds. 

4. Create a Manageable Routine 

After recording the time per movement, be sure to write down and log the exercise time and practice those movements as often as possible leading up to a daily routine. Keeping a log will help to create objective means for growth tracking. Including details such as pain levels before, during, and after each exercise is also valuable information not only to better understand the body during these exercises, but to give to doctors and other medical support. Another suggestion for what to be aware of is the type of irritation and pain being experienced and how the participant feels physically and mentally after each session. 

The steel mace should never cause pain. If it hurts the body, take a pause and pick that exercise up at a later time. The most important thing is to listen to the body. It is always communicating something. 

FACT: Concussion patients can be prepared for the brain to feel activated! 

Photo: Jack Grooms

Photo: Jack Grooms

Suggested Exercises: 

  • Over- Over Hand Switches (without flipping the mace) 

  • Overhead Extension 

  • Front Pendulum (no swing) 

While this article is only sharing a few ways on how the steel mace can improve symptoms of a concussion and aid in the rehabilitation time, there are other things such as ensuring a proper night’s sleep, eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and more that will contribute to the improvement of this injury and diagnosis. These exercises are not meant to replace or override current treatment plans or medical advice. 

What steel mace exercises help you or your clients manage and improve concussion symptoms? Comment below- I’d love to hear!

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