Fit to Function Uses CrossFit to Help Brain Injury Patients

March 22, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Richard Wollboldt Photo
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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and here are some staggering statistics, courtesy of the Brain Injury Awareness Association:

  • Brain injury is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States–at least 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury every year
  • 47.9% are from falls
  • 17.1% are from blunt force–either being struck by or against something
  • 13.2% are from motor vehicle accidents
  • 8.3% are from assaults
  • 13.2% are from other or unknown causes

Enter Fit to Function: Traditional methods of rehabilitation and therapy often fail to help brain injury patients back to a level of function that they had or that they aspire to, and that’s where Jenna Muri-Rosenthal comes in. 

Muri-Rosenthal is a speech-language pathologist and certified brain injury specialist, as well as CrossFit coach and founder of “Fit to Function” which has been based out of Invictus Boston since the fall of 2020.

  • “In the 13 years I’ve been doing this, there’s always a big gap in what happens from your standard medical treatment. [It’s like] good enough, you can walk again, you can talk again? Go home,” Muri-Rosenthal said about her motivations for developing Fit to Function. 

Muri-Rosenthal uses the functional movements at the heart of the CrossFit methodology to help her patients, and she’s currently working with 18-20, both in-person at Invictus and remotely to build and rebuild neural pathways that translate gym movements into real-world movements. (The term for this is neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to modify, change and adapt throughout life and in response to experience.)

  • “I ask what their specific goals are for recovery, and it varies. Like I had one woman who was like getting down to a smaller height toilets, like sometimes toilets are only 16 inches. And she was getting back out into the world, and that was something she was struggling with so we worked on that target.”
  • “[Some patients] come through the door and I say ‘show me how you get down to the floor and back up again. They’ve never done that, because in rehab we sort of package you up and keep you safe and say ‘don’t fall,’ but we don’t help you figure out what you would do if you did fall. So our focus is functional needs.”

That’s not all: Muri-Rosenthal has found, as so many CrossFitters have, that the gym not only builds physical health and wellness, but also emotional and social wellness too.

  • “By and large, brain injury is a scary thing to people, it’s a population people just don’t understand very well,” Muri-Rosenthal said.
  • “[But] the gym is just the right place for folks to find community again and come out of isolation.”

When people suffer a brain injury or stroke, they spend time in a hospital, do rehab, and as soon as they reach a minimal level of functionality, they are sent home. But the story doesn’t end there. Because they often can’t work anymore, or socialize like they used to, and sometimes they become isolated and alone.

  • “The thing that’s so powerful about CrossFit is that once you get everybody into that group setting, there’s a shared goal…a shared brotherhood of suffering,” she said.
  • “And so you put someone who maybe has difficulty with memory, or maybe has some adaptive capacity and the way that they move is not 100 percent the way they want to, or the way they used to, but you put them into that group setting and all of that goes away and everybody supports one another and cheers each other on.”
  • “I think the supportive environment helps bring out a side in them that they don’t otherwise let shine because there’s a lot of vulnerability there.”

The bottom line: Fit to Function is doing important work within the brain injury community. If you or someone you are close to has experienced a brain injury or trauma, reach out to Muri-Rosenthal. She takes on remote as well as in person clients and offers scholarships available for those in need of financial assistance. 

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