PT’s Guide to Concussion

Football season is upon us and inevitably, so is the topic of concussions. There’s been a lot in the news lately about sports and concussions, and even the state of Michigan now requires parents and players to sign a document that they’ve been educated and understand the symptoms. But while sports are a common cause of concussions, they are also seen in other settings. That’s why it’s important for everyone to educate themselves on the basics of concussion diagnosis and treatment.

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries that are sustained when the brain is jarred or jolted, forcing it to crash into the skull. The damage sustained by the brain effects various functions ranging from minor to major impairments.

Diagnosing someone with a concussion can be a challenge, as each individual can possess a wide range of signs and symptoms. A person who suffers from a concussion may only present a few signs and symptoms, which can include:

  • Headache
  • Feeling in a fog
  • Dizziness
  • Memory difficulties
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Mood swings
  • Blurred vision
  • More emotional
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Balance problems
  • Sleeping too much
  • Fatigue
  • Slurred speech
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Loss of consciousness

The best treatment for a concussion is to allow for the individual to rest and monitor their recovery. If the individual’s signs and symptoms worsen they should be taken in for further medical treatment as there may be bleeding in the brain or more severe damage.

A full recovery from a concussion may take days, weeks, or even months. It is important for someone who has suffered from a concussion to refrain from any activities that may put them at risk for another head injury until they have fully recovered from their original injury. A concussion causes the brain to swell, and the skull only allows for so much swelling. If someone is still showing signs and symptoms following a concussion, there is still swelling present in the brain. If this individual then suffers another head injury prior to a full recovery, the brain will endure rapid swelling with even less space within the skull, this can result in Second-impact syndrome (SIS). SIS can result in permanent, severe disabilities and even death.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
Physical therapists can evaluate and treat many problems related to a concussion. Because no two concussions are the same, our examination is essential to assess your individual symptoms and limitations. We then design a treatment program.

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. A qualified vestibular physical therapist can provide specific exercises and training to reduce or stop dizziness and improve balance and stability.

We will also examine you for neck problems following a concussion. Neck injuries can cause headaches and contribute to some forms of dizziness. Your therapist 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.

A person who has suffered from a concussion should be cleared by a trained medical professional. In order to be cleared the individual must be completely symptom free for at least 24 hours at rest and following exertion. Always play it safe and consult with a medical professional regarding concussion diagnosis and treatment. And remember, when in doubt, sit it out.


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