Sports & Concussion Management

What does the start of football season mean to you? Tailgating with friends and family, or maybe cheering on the home team? As physical therapists, we love a good game just like the next person, but as the weather cools down and the weekends fill with football, we see a significant rise in patients with concussions due to sports injuries.

What Is Concussion?
A concussion is a brain injury that occurs when the brain is shaken inside the skull, causing changes in the brain’s chemistry and energy supply. A concussion might happen as a result of a direct blow to the head or an indirect force, such as whiplash. You might or might not lose consciousness.

Signs and Symptoms
There are many symptoms related to concussion, and they can affect your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Look for physical signs of headache, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, double or blurred vision, and sensitivity to light and sound. Cognitive (thinking) symptoms may include difficulty with short-term or long-term memory, confusion, or difficulty with concentration. Emotional symptoms may include irritability, anxiety, mood swings, and aggression. If you are experiencing any combination of these symptoms, call your doctor or your school’s athletic trainer immediately.

How Are Concussions Diagnosed?
Concussion is easy to miss because diagnostic imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan, usually is normal.

Because of the variety of possible symptoms that can interfere with day-to-day activities, seek coordinated medical care immediately. Your health care professionals may include a physician with expertise in concussion, a neuropsychologist, and a vestibular physical therapist (a physical therapist who specializes in treating balance disorders and dizziness). We have vestibular therapists at each of our five clinics located in the greater Grand Rapids and Muskegon areas.

After a concussion, limit any kind of exertion. The brain won’t have time to heal if you increase physical exertion too soon—such as returning to social activities or sports—or if you increase cognitive demands too soon, such as returning to school or work. You can slowly resume normal activities only once your symptoms have improved and stay improved.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
Physical therapists can evaluate and treat many problems related to concussion. Because no 2 concussions are the same, the physical therapist’s examination is essential to assess your individual symptoms and limitations. The physical therapist then designs a treatment program especially for you.

Help Stop Dizziness and Improve Your Balance

If you have dizziness or difficulty with your balance following a concussion, vestibular physical therapy may help. The vestibular system, which includes the inner ear and its connections with the brain, is responsible for sensing head movement, keeping your eyes focused when you move your head, and helping you keep your balance. As qualified vestibular physical therapists, we can provide specific exercises and training to reduce or stop dizziness and improve balance and stability.

Reduce Headaches

We will examine you for neck problems following a concussion. Neck injuries can cause headaches and contribute to some forms of dizziness. We can also assess your back for possible injuries to your spine.

As symptoms due to concussion improve, we will help you resume physical activity gradually, to avoid overloading the brain and nervous system that have been compromised by concussion.

It’s important that you follow the recommendations of all health care professionals so that you can achieve the greatest amount of recovery in the shortest amount of time.

At Northern Physical Therapy we are trained in vestibular physical therapy, and we staff the athletic trainers for both the Coopersville and Cedar Springs school districts. There, our trainers work closely with students at all sporting activities to aid in any type of injury. Our clinics in Grant, Sparta, and Wayland are also equipped to answer any questions you may have on concussion or concussion management as well. Email our athletic trainers, or call our office at 616.997.6172 to discuss concussion management further.

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