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Physical Therapist’s Guide to Concussions

Physical Therapist’s Guide to Concussions

Concussions have been all over the news lately.  You will hear about them in almost every professional sports game you will watch.  Many people are paying more attention to concussions and the protocol to getting back to the field or life in general following a concussion.  There is even a big Hollywood movie on concussions and the NFL.  Below you will find some useful information on concussions and what Physical Therapy can do to help you after your concussion.

Concussion is a traumatic brain injury that can damage brain tissue and change the chemical balance of the brain. Concussion may cause physical, mental, and emotional symptoms and problems, both short-term and long-term. Every concussion is considered a serious injury by health care providers.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 2.5 million concussions occurred in the United States in 2010, the most recent year for which the CDC has statistics. A physical therapist can assess symptoms to determine if a concussion is present, and treat the injury by guiding the patient through a safe and individualized recovery program.


What Is Concussion?

Concussion is a brain injury that occurs when the brain is violently shaken. This can happen during rapid movement changes (such as whiplash) or when the head is hit. This shaking or hitting of the head causes unpredictable injury to any area of the brain, resulting in immediate or delayed changes in the brain’s chemistry and function. Depending on which area of the brain suffers injury, many different temporary or permanent problems with brain function can occur.

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Concussions can occur at any age, from a variety of causes, including:

  • Recovery from a concussion can take several weeks to several months, depending on many factors, including severity and age.Car accidents (i.e., a head impact, or whiplash)
  • Work accidents (i.e., falls, head trauma)
  • Playground accidents (i.e., falling from a slide or swing)
  • Sports injury to the head or neck
  • Any type of fall or direct blow to the head, face, or neck
  • Violent events
    • physical abuse during which the head is shaken
    • being too close to a blast or explosion

Concussion may occur along with other brain injuries such as bruising, bleeding, or tearing of the brain tissue. These injuries are very severe and require the immediate care of a medical doctor, such as a neurosurgeon.

CAUTION: Concussions can be fatal or can result in permanent brain damage.

Seek medical help immediately following any head injury.


How Does it Feel?

A concussion can cause a variety of symptoms and problems in many different body functions, such as:

  • The senses (eg, vision, hearing, or sense of smell problems)
  • Body movements (eg, weakness or loss of balance and coordination)
  • Personality and mood (eg, newly-developed irritability, depression, or trouble concentrating)
  • Pain (eg, headaches or migraines)

Concussion sometimes causes loss of consciousness (“blacking out”), but not always.


How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists can evaluate and treat many problems related to concussion. Because no 2 concussions are the same, your physical therapist’s examination will assess your individual symptoms and problems, so that the physical therapist can design a safe and individualized treatment program just for you. Treatment may include:

Rest and Recovery. Your physical therapist will help you and your family understand why you should limit any kind of activity (physical, sport, recreational, electronic, school) after a concussion, until it is safe to return to these activities. A period of rest helps the brain heal and helps symptoms clear up, as quickly as possible. Your physical therapist will prescribe the rest and recovery program most appropriate for your condition.

Restoring Strength and Endurance. The physical and mental rest required after a concussion can result in muscle weakness, and a decrease in physical endurance. Your physical therapist can help you regain your strength and endurance, when the right time comes, without making your concussion symptoms worse. Your physical therapist will design a therapeutic exercise program just for you, and closely monitor your symptoms as you participate in the program.

Stopping Dizziness and Improving Balance. If you have dizziness or difficulty with your balance following a concussion, a type of physical therapy called vestibular physical therapy may help. The vestibular system, which includes the inner ear and its connections with the brain, helps you keep your balance and prevent dizziness. A qualified vestibular physical therapist may be able to help reduce or stop your dizziness or balance problems after a concussion by applying special treatments or teaching you specific exercises. There even may be some simple exercises that your physical therapist can teach you to do at home.

Reducing Headaches. Your physical therapist will assess the different possible causes of your headaches, and use specific treatments and exercises to reduce and eliminate them. Treatment may include stretches, strength and motion exercises, eye exercises, hands-on techniques, like specialized massage, and the use of technologies such as electrical stimulation.

Returning to Normal Activity or Sport. As symptoms ease and you are able to regain your normal strength and endurance without symptoms returning, your physical therapist will help you gradually add normal activities back into your daily routine. Your physical therapist will help you avoid overloading the brain and nervous system, as you increase your activity level. Overloading the brain during activity after a concussion interferes with the healing of the brain tissue, and can make your symptoms return. Your physical therapist will help return you to your normal life and sport activities in the quickest and safest way possible, while allowing your brain to properly heal.


The full article can be found on: MoveForwardPT.

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