The fencing response and seizures are two rare yet serious effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI). They can occur separately or together.

The fencing response is an involuntary postural response that may occur immediately following a TBI. A person exhibiting the fencing response typically holds one arm outstretched in front of them and the other arm flexed at the elbow. They may hold the position for several seconds.

A seizure occurs due to an abnormal pattern of electrical activity in the brain. Seizures may include changes in consciousness or involuntary movements, such as convulsions.

This article explores the link between the fencing response and seizures. We also describe some other types of posturing that may follow a TBI and list some other symptoms and complications of a TBI.

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According to a 2023 study, the fencing response is an involuntary posture a person may assume in the moments immediately following a traumatic brain injury (TBI). An individual demonstrating the fencing response typically holds one arm outstretched in front of them and the other arm flexed at the elbow. The fencing response is so-called because it mimics the stance of a fencing athlete.

The fencing response typically lasts several seconds.

A 2022 study notes that the fencing response is a rare symptom of TBI. However, not every case of TBI will result in a fencing response. The study states that people who lose consciousness due to a TBI may be more likely to experience a fencing response.

A TBI is any type of brain injury that results from physical trauma. Some factors that can cause TBI include:

  • sports injuries
  • automobile accidents
  • assault
  • impact from inanimate objects

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), a seizure is a sudden change in behavior due to an abnormal pattern of electrical activity in the brain.

Seizures can manifest in various ways. A particularly obvious manifestation is convulsing, which people often refer to as “seizing.”

There is not much scientific data concerning the degree of correlation between seizures and the fencing response.

The aforementioned 2022 study analyzed video evidence of people who may have experienced TBI. They found that the fencing response was the most common response to TBI, occurring 47% of the time. Seizures were the next most common, occurring in 44% of cases. However, these numbers came from a small group of people that were narrowed down from 9.9 million to 79 people.

While it may actually be a rare symptom of TBI, a fencing response is a serious prognostic sign.

The study also found that in 13 of the 79 videos, individuals exhibited signs of both the fencing response and seizure.

According to a 2022 review, there are two main types of posturing associated with severe brain damage. These are:

  • Decorticate posturing: Signs of decorticate posturing include:
    • closed hands
    • arms that are bent inward, toward the chest
    • legs that are fully extended and rotated inward
    • feet that are rotated inward
  • Decerebrate posturing: Signs of decerebrate posturing include:
    • arching of the head and neck
    • curling of the hands and fingers
    • arms that are straight and parallel to the body
    • legs that are straight and fully extended
    • toes that are pointed downward

The difference between a fencing response and these other types of posturing is that a fencing response is immediate. Decorticate and decerebrate posturing can develop days or weeks after a person has experienced a loss of consciousness following a severe head injury and swelling.

A TBI can cause a range of symptoms besides abnormal posturing. Symptoms that can persist after a concussion include:

Signs of a TBI include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • headache
  • convulsions or seizures
  • blurred or double vision
  • clear fluid draining from the nose or ears
  • loss of consciousness
  • confusion or disorienttation
  • irritability or mood changes
  • lightheadedness, dizziness, or loss of balance
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • ringing in ears or hearing problems
  • fatigue or drowsiness

Anyone with symptoms of TBI should seek immediate medical attention.

A TBI can cause various complications, some of which can be serious and even life threatening.

According to a 2023 review, individuals may experience the following physical complications after sustaining a TBI:

TBI can also result in some significant mental health issues, including:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person who has sustained a moderate to severe TBI may require specialist medical care during the recovery phase of their treatment.

The CDC notes that people may benefit from rehabilitation therapy to help them relearn skills, such as:

  • remembering facts
  • driving
  • returning to work

There is no set recovery time for TBI. Instead, recovery will depend largely on the type and severity of the TBI, and the areas of the brain affected. Factors like the individual’s overall health, and access to appropriate healthcare and emotional support are also important.

The fencing response and seizures are two possible serious consequences of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The fencing response is a postural response that may occur in the moments immediately following a TBI. A seizure is an event that can involve involuntary movements or changes to consciousness.

Both the fencing response and seizures are rare following a TBI, and they can occur in isolation or together. Other possible symptoms of a TBI include headache, vomiting, and problems with memory and cognition.

A TBI can cause serious and potentially life threatening complications. As such, anyone who experiences symptoms of a TBI following a blow to the head should seek immediate medical attention.