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The Movement Prescription: Dr. Nguyen’s Commitment to Redefining Stroke and mTBI Rehabilitation Education

Photo: Shaneen Ehmann

We often take for granted our ability to roll out of bed, stand up, and walk without having to think twice about it every day. While many of us comprehend the profound impact that a brain injury or stroke can have on an individual’s mobility and engagement in routine activities such as brushing teeth, walking to the bathroom, or playing with children, our efforts to avert such occurrences remain insufficient.

The incidence of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is notably elevated among the youngest and oldest demographics, rendering them more vulnerable to TBI resulting from particular kinds of injuries including falls, motor vehicle crashes, and sports participation. Among older adults, the majority of TBIs are precipitated by falls, with a singular fall constituting a risk factor for subsequent incidents. However, despite our understanding of the serious damage following such injuries, we do not do nearly enough to prevent them from happening.

With the combination of increased participation in sports, both professionally and recreationally, and the age of athletes being younger and younger, there are reports of between 1.7 and 3 million sports- and recreation-related concussions each year, half of which are unreported or undetected. The statistics do not include concussive injuries that occur in schools, professional environments, or in households. This is alarming, as concussions are a significant risk factor for strokes, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), among other neurological dysfunctions.

The repercussions of neurological conditions resulting from injuries such as strokes and persistent concussive syndrome are profound for impacted individuals. The enduring disabilities stemming from these conditions significantly impede their ability to engage optimally in various aspects of life and can result in giving up hobbies and relying on family and friends to complete the simplest activities. The lack of information and advocacy following a hospitalization causes family to feel lost and unsupported by the U.S. healthcare system. It’s important to understand that the recovery journey begins after being declared “stable and safe for discharge” by the hospitals.

Dr. Chloe Linh Nguyen, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, has a mission to change this aftercare for such profound and life-changing events. Drawing on her research and experience, she has a vision for a markedly improved concussion protocol, not only adaptable and usable for sport coaches, but also teachers at schools, caregivers at home, members of first responding teams, and even those reading this article. Not only that, but she also aims to equip communities across the United States with comprehensive information and resources for caregivers, parents, and those feeling lost who are supporting the recovery journey of a loved one’s concussion or stroke.

Throughout her professional training and career, Dr. Nguyen has extensive experiences working with patients after strokes, clients with persistent concussive symptoms both in inpatient settings including at a level II trauma hospital and skilled nursing facility, and in the outpatient setting with athletes and fitness enthusiasts. She truly understands the required components and fluidity in effective rehabilitation to reduce symptoms and improve her patients’ quality of life, ensuring they are able to return to their unique hobbies and activities.

People may question the role of a physical therapist in the context of concussions or post-stroke rehabilitation. However, physical therapists play a crucial role in aiding patients and collaborating closely to facilitate a return to normalcy. While a patient’s condition may stabilize after medical intervention, the journey back to activities like walking, standing, or participating in sports requires proper guidance for recovery and rehabilitation. Despite trillions expended on U.S. healthcare costs associated with stroke-related and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)-related injuries, many communities find themselves inadequately prepared to assist themselves and their families. Lack of access to information and support leaves individuals feeling compelled to advocate for aid and resources, highlighting the persistent need for enhanced awareness and accessible assistance.

Because of this substantial gap in the healthcare system, Dr. Nguyen founded Steel & Grit Therapy LLC with the plan to spread awareness and information while establishing the company as a homebase across the United States for individuals and families who need help and guidance with stroke and mTBI rehabilitations. Because one hour of rehabilitation a week is insufficient and it’s critical for patients to work on recovery in and out of sessions, Dr. Nguyen places emphasis on providing consultations and rehabilitation services in-person and virtually. All patients need a progressive program with personalized goals and holistic treatment while receiving access to 24/7 support and education.

Within the state of Washington and the Greater Seattle Area, there are less than five physical therapy clinics that are specialized in vestibular rehab, and even fewer therapists who are trained in treating concussions and spreading suitable education and treatment options to the community. As a result, Dr. Nguyen strives to offer not only free educational content on understanding concussions and available treatment modalities, she also understands what it takes to optimally return to sports and/or physical activities. Successful rehabilitation doesn’t stop with resolving symptoms; it continues with proper conditioning and strength training, which are essential for establishing a robust foundation.

Can you give some details about your upbringing/background and/or what inspired you to do what you do today?

I was born and raised in Vietnam, bathed in good food and humidity. My parents have always been the force behind my success and provided me with a strong foundation and support for me to achieve what I have. I stumbled upon fitness only because I thought it was something I was supposed to do, and that everyone was doing it. I never expected to fall in love with movement and became obsessively curious about ways to achieve optimal performance. I started to become fixated on how to remain injury-free or the recovery process and how the human body works in this journey. I quickly surrounded myself with people who shared the same passion, and I pursued education in kinesiology and exercise science and then a doctoral degree in physical therapy. Throughout my education, it was made concrete that movement is literally medicine. Medication cannot get a person walking, but practicing the movement is going to get a person walking.

During my doctoral study, I was fascinated by neuroscience, the intricacies of the brain and its adaptability to change, and how movement training can cause changes within the brain. I started to become invested in this specialty within physical therapy, found interest in concussions, and realized there is a significant knowledge gap that is overlooked and affecting the U.S. population. That led me to today. I am on a mission to spread accurate knowledge on concussions, what we know so far through high-quality research, and what people should do when facing it. I want to equip teachers, first responders, coaches, and athletes themselves with the knowledge to better protect, recover, and advocate for themselves, ultimately contributing to overall health.

Do you have a favorite mantra or life quote? Why do you like this quote?

“In a few years, you won’t care how long it took, you’ll just be happy you did it.” Does this resonate with you too? It is scary to get out of the comfort zone and do something where you have no idea if will bring you the results you want, no one to guide you, and the seemingly overwhelming task of learning about a hundred and some exercises. However, to me, this quote is the antidote to get out of that rabbit hole mentality and to encourage everyone to keep going and continuously strive to endlessly learn and grow.

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