While concussions can happen at any time and in any sport, the rate of incidence increases in high impact sports such as football and soccer. With the start of the new school year around the corner and many of our children already practicing on the playgrounds and fields, it is important for families to recognize the signs / symptoms of concussions and the steps necessary for proper healing.
What Is A Concussion / How Does It Occur?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that occurs when trauma to the head and neck cause a vigorous, unnatural impact to the brain. The brain essentially is shaken inside the skull as a result of either a direct blow to the head, neck or body or via an indirect force such as whiplash. It is important to realize that one does NOT need to lose consciousness (pass out) or have memory loss to have sustained a concussion nor do cuts or bruises on the face neck or head accompany every concussion.
Symptoms Of Concussions
Concussions can affect one’s physical, emotional and mental well-being. Signs and symptoms of concussions include but are NOT limited to:
Most people with concussions fully recover with appropriate treatment. But because a concussion can be serious, safeguarding yourself is important. Here are a few steps to take:
Seek medical attention. A health care professional can decide how serious the concussion is and whether you require treatment.
If you have a grade 1 or grade 2 concussion, wait until symptoms are gone before returning to normal activities. That could take several minutes, hours, days, or even a week.
If a person has lost consciousness, that’s a grade 3 concussion that needs a doctor’s immediate evaluation and care. They’ll ask how the head injury happened and discuss the symptoms. The doctor may also ask you simple questions such as “Where do you live?,” “What is your name?,” or “Who is the president?” The doctor asks these questions to evaluate memory and concentration skills.
The doctor may test coordination and reflexes, which are both functions of the central nervous system. The doctor may also order a CT scan or an MRI to rule out bleeding or other serious brain injury.
How a concussion is treated
Treatment for a concussion depends on the severity of your symptoms. You might need surgery or other medical procedures if you have:
bleeding in the brain
swelling of the brain
a serious injury to the brain
However, most concussions don’t require surgery or any major medical treatment.
If the concussion is causing headaches, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Your doctor will also probably ask you to get plenty of rest, avoid sports and other strenuous activities, and avoid driving a vehicle or riding a bike for 24 hours or even a few months, depending on the severity of your injury. Alcohol might slow recovery, so ask your doctor if you should avoid drinking it. If you should avoid alcohol, ask your doctor for how long.
How Physical Therapy Can Help
Physical therapists are health care professionals who are experts when it comes to the mechanics of the body and how the muscles, joints and skeletal structure work with one another. Because no two concussions are alike, will evaluate and assess the individual’s symptoms and limitations and design a personalized treatment program.
Treatment may include:
Balance and gait training to reduce unsteadiness on one’s feet.
Neck strengthening exercises and manual stretching to reduce headaches.
Increasing anaerobic and aerobic activities in a safe, non-biased, objective environment to ensure the individual can return to their sport healthy and at the right time.
Concussed athletes often stay “I’m fine” to their coaches, friends and parents.
In our office, we can safely progress the athlete through activities and intensity of activities with the results being measured objectively vs. subjectively thereby ensuring their safety.
In addition to helping one recover from a concussion, physical therapists can design neck strengthening exercises and core stabilizing programs which will help reduce the risk of concussions. By increasing the strength and stability of the muscles of the neck and trunk, one minimizes the impact of injuries and likelihood of concussions.
When it comes to concussions and recovery from them, ALWAYS on the side of caution. The brain won’t have time to heal if you increase physical exertion or if you increase cognitive demands too soon. And remember, experiencing a second trauma / concussion too close to the first has an exponential impact on recovery, not simply the same impact.
Other concussion complications
Long-term complications include:
post-concussion syndrome, which causes you to experience concussion symptoms for weeks (or even months) instead of just a few days
post-traumatic headaches, which may last for a few months
post-traumatic vertigo, or dizziness that lasts for up to several months
brain injuries from multiple TBIs
How to prevent concussions
You can reduce your risk of getting a concussion by wearing the correct helmet and other athletic safety gear during sports activities. Always make sure the helmet and other gear fit properly and are worn appropriately. Ask a coach or other sports professional about safe playing techniques, and make sure to follow their advice.