A concussion happens when the brain is pushed against the inside of the skull by an impact or set of repeated impacts, causing bruising and damage to the brain. Doctors call this a "Traumatic Brain Injury" or TBI. It can be caused by any impact to the head, such as from a blow or fall, or by rapid movement of the head, such as whiplash. These injuries are followed by a variety of symptoms, which can include nausea, confusion, difficulty focusing, blurred vision, and headaches. In some cases, symptoms and cognitive changes can last for months or even be permanent.
If You May Have a Concussion
You should seek medical attention after any blow to the head. Concussion symptoms may not start right away, and it is not uncommon for one of the symptoms of a concussion being absolutely convinced you are, in fact, fine. The risk of permanent damage, or even death, is minimized by prompt medical attention. Symptoms that linger for weeks or months are called "Postconcussion syndrome" - which is usually defined as symptoms which last beyond 7-10 days after the injury. Additionally, a period of rest after concussion can obviously cause a loss of fitness, especially in athletes. The majority of concussions are sports-related, with the highest risk activities being football, gymnastics and soccer. A doctor is likely to recommend physical therapy if symptoms persist more than three weeks after the injury. While physical therapy cannot heal the brain, it can help the body recover.
How Can Physical Therapy Help With Concussions?
Physical therapy can help with postconcussion syndrome in a number of ways. For example, it can reduce vertigo and balance-related symptoms - which can, in turn, result in another fall and injury. It can also help with blurred vision and difficulty focusing the eyes. The eyes can also become tired very easily after a concussion. A chiropractor can prescribe eye exercises to help with this. Eye exercises are personalized and consist of exercises such as covering one eye and looking at different objects or practicing concentrating one's gaze on a specific object. As each person and each injury is different, the therapist will establish a personalized program of exercises, some done in the office and some at home, to help the patient regain balance and stability.
Another thing physical therapy can do is reduce headaches. In many cases, post concussion headaches are not caused by damage to the brain, but by sprains or strains of the neck associated with the impact, which can be helped by physical therapy (and possibly massage or chiropractic treatment alongside). In some cases, eye exercises can also help headaches.
Finally, a physical therapist can help you return to physical activity and recover from the "treatment" - that is to say the period of full rest that is prescribed after concussion. They can monitor your symptoms and make sure you do not push yourself too hard and suffer a relapse. The return to full activity should be gradual, especially for athletes (young athletes in particular are more inclined to try to push a recovery and may become resistant to requirements to rest).
A good physical therapist can also give advice on how to prevent another concussion. As the effects of concussions through somebody's life can be cumulative, it's important to be careful. One way in which a physical therapist can help is that it has been demonstrated that individuals with stronger neck muscles experience less concussions, so athletes who engage in contact sports benefit from exercises and stretches designed to strengthen the neck. Exercises to improve balance can also reduce further risk, especially in older individuals at risk of falling.
After a concussion, the initial treatment should be physical and cognitive rest. If symptoms persist, though, physical therapy is the best way to speed recovery and ensure that the person does not return to activity faster than they are ready to and risk further injury.