Managing fatigue after TBI

Fatigue is a frequent, significant, and debilitating condition for those who have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). While it’s hard to measure, some patients have described fatigue as an “overwhelming lack of energy” or “mush brain.” Or you might feel as if you “hit a wall,” or you’re “out of gas,” where even basic activities are hard to do.

Nearly 70% of those living with TBI experience physical, mental, or psychological fatigue. When your brain is injured, neuropathways are typically compromised, and you need more energy for even simple tasks. The healing process to recover from TBI itself demands extra energy too. Sleep problems, neuro-endocrine disorders, and depression associated with TBI also can make fatigue worse. The good news is there are ways to cope with fatigue after TBI, so you can perform well.

  • Prioritize daily tasks. Start your day off by doing the most important and hardest things first, when you’re less likely to feel fatigued. Try making to-do lists to help separate tasks that must be done soon from those that can wait until later.
  • Manage your time. Know that fatigue means you need to allow extra time for activities. Make sure you take frequent breaks and pace yourself. Plan your day for success by balancing work with periods of rest. Also, learn your triggers and stop activity before fatigue sets in.
  • Map out goals. Set realistic expectations with SMART goals to help break tougher tasks into smaller, manageable “chunks.” Take time to celebrate small wins too!
  • Take care of your body. Make sure you’re getting proper nutrition, quality sleep, and moderate exercise. It might seem counterintuitive to exercise when you feel tired, but physical activity can provide boosts of energy and help improve the quality of sleep you get at night.

You can’t always see the impact of TBI the same way you can see the impact of other illnesses and injuries. Psychological and physical fatigue might feel frustrating to overcome, but knowing that it’s a normal part of recovery can help you be kinder to yourself.

If you’re experiencing excessive fatigue, make sure to visit your doctor to rule out any underlying medical problems. In the meanwhile, visit A Head for the Future to learn more about TBI.



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Kohl, A. D., Wylie, G. R., Genova, H. M., Hillary, F. G., & Deluca, J. (2009). The neural correlates of cognitive fatigue in traumatic brain injury using functional MRI. Brain Injury, 23(5), 420–432. doi:10.1080/02699050902788519

Northern Brain Injury Association. (2018). Basic coping strategies for person(s) living with a brain injury. Retrieved from

Ziino, C., & Ponsford, J. (2006). Vigilance and fatigue following traumatic brain injury. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 12(1), 100–110. doi:10.1017/S1355617706060139