Concussion has received a significant increase in attention over the past several years as individuals in the sports world and medical fields have started speaking out about the long-term implications associated with this injury. More than 3.8 million concussions occur each year in sports alone, according to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. Recent scientific evidence stresses the need for proper care to prevent complications from concussion. There are 3 critical steps to take if you think you or a loved one might have a concussion:
- Seek immediate medical attention
- Do not engage in any activity that may result in the risk of a head injury
- Limit all activities, including work and school
What Exactly is a Concussion?
A concussion is an injury to the brain that results when the brain is shaken inside the skull, leading to changes in the brain’s chemistry and energy supply. It can happen either directly (a blow to the head) or indirectly (e.g. whiplash). It may or may not include a loss of consciousness.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion?
There are a multitude of symptoms related to concussion that can affect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Double/Blurred Vision
- Balance Difficulties
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Sensitivity to Light/Sound
Mental (cognitive/thinking) symptoms can include:
- Short Term or Long Term Memory Loss
- Inability to Focus or Concentrate
- Decreased Ability to “Process” (i.e. thinking through problems)
Emotional symptoms can include:
- Mood Swings
- Inability to Handle Stress
How is Concussion Diagnosed?
It is very easy to miss a concussion with diagnostic imaging because MRIs and CT scans are often normal. Due to the wide range of potential symptoms that can interfere with your normal daily activities it is best to seek coordinated medical care immediately. These health care professionals often include a vestibular Physical Therapist (a PT who who specializes in treating dizziness and balance disorders), a doctor with expertise in concussion, and a neuropsychologist. It is absolutely critical that, following a concussion, any kind of exertion is limited. If you increase physical exertion too soon (like returning to sports or social activities) the brain won’t have time to heal. Similarly, you do not want to increase cognitive demands too soon, either (like returning to work or school). Once your symptoms start to improve and stay improved, then you can gradually resume normal activities.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
Your Physical Therapist should be able to evaluate and treat a number of issues related to concussion. It is important to realize that, since no two concussions are the same, the evaluation by your Physical Therapist is critical to assess your specific symptoms and limitations. Only then can an individualized treatment program be recommended and initiated. Some of the most common factors to address when treating concussion include:
- Reducing Headaches–Your Physical Therapist should assess you for neck problems following a concussion. Injuries to the neck and spine can lead to headaches and contribute to some forms of dizziness. As your symptoms begin to subside, your Physical Therapist should help you to gradually resume physical activity to prevent overloading the brain and nervous system that have been compromised by concussion.
- Help to Eliminate Dizziness and Improve Balance–Vestibular Physical Therapy should help if you are experiencing dizziness or balance issues following a concussion. Your vestibular system is responsible for sensing head movement, keeping your eyes focused with any head movements, and helping you to maintain balance. It includes the inner ear and its connections with the brain. A vestibular Physical Therapist can provide specific training and exercises to help eliminate dizziness and improve balance and stability.
What to Look For in a Child That has Sustained a Possible Concussion
If you have a child who suffers a head injury either from sports or normal activities (e.g. a fall, auto accident, etc.) and they are complaining of headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light, or any combination of, the next 24 hours are extremely critical. Seek care immediately (i.e. Emergency Room) if you observe or your child informs you that they are experiencing any of the following:
- Headache that worsens and does not subside
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
- Extreme lethargy, drowsiness, or not able to be awakened
- Convulsions or seizures
- One pupil larger than the other
- Loss of consciousness
- Increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation
- Unable to recognize people or places
- Unusual behavior
If you or someone you know may have suffered a concussion, don’t wait to take action. Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or go to my website at www.wildermanphysicaltherapy.com as I am trained in Vestibular Rehabilitation. Don’t delay–call now!