As popularized throughout sports, concussion has been a trending topic throughout all media outlets. In the last decade expert scientists, physicians, and other healthcare providers have strived to address the wave of questions and concerns raised by those affected and their loved ones.
Though most of the literature reviews and studies sports related concussions, I believe much of the information can be applied to the many individuals with general concussions. With winter in full effect, concussions can be caused not only from winter sports, but also from accidents caused by ice (motor vehicle accidents, slip and falls, etc).
This past summer, I attended a Seattle Pediatric Sports Medicine conference that had a panel of healthcare providers who manage patients with sports-related concussions. They discussed the current topics on concussion management and how they approach each case. Most members of the panel were a part of the University of Washington Concussion team.
The University of Washington does a great job in providing information on the background and general symptoms of concussion. You can access their tremendous resource here.
The main points I took from the conference is that current up-to-date acute treatment of concussion does not require the affected individual to sit in a dark room until symptoms to diminish. These individuals don’t require prolonged avoidance of TV or phone screens. Additionally I learned that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is still in its infant stages of research and scientists are unable to conclude that multiple concussions are the actual causes of CTE. The most important fact I was reminded of was that concussion treatment requires a team approach, which can sometimes include physical therapy.
HOW PHYSICAL THERAPISTS CAN HELP
According to the most recent consensus statement released by the Concussion in Sport Group in 2016, “Sports related concussions can result in diverse symptoms and problems, and can be associated with concurrent injury to the cervical spine and peripheral vestibular system… the data support interventions including psychological, cervical, and vestibular rehabilitation.”1 You can read more here on the 2016 Berlin Concussion Consensus Statement.
Most concussion symptoms tend to resolve after 2 weeks. However if there are lingering symptoms, seeing a physical therapist may be a great option to help with an individual's recovery. Here is how we can help.
Sustaining a concussion can result from multiple types of head trauma. What affects the head likely affects the neck. The body will do everything it can to protect the head and often stiffen your neck. With pain playing the role of your alarm system, it’s with no surprise that the neck becomes extra guarded and irritated when you try to move it. Physical therapists can improve your cervical and thoracic spine mobility and implement strategies and interventions to decrease your discomfort. From manual therapy to progressed therapeutic exercises, PT interventions can help improve neck function.
Vestibular specialized physical therapists can help those after concussion who continue to feel dizzy or off-balanced. Symptoms may include but are not exclusive to dizziness, vertigo (room spinning), disequilibrium (off balance, nausea), and visual impairment. Seeing a physical therapist who specializes in vestibular rehabilitation can be a valuable member on your team. After a thorough evaluation, they can provide you strategies and exercises to help your vestibular system adapt.2
Benign Paroxysmal Positional vertigo (BPPV) is the most common vestibular pathology that can occur after head trauma. Symptoms include head motion-induced vertigo, normally triggered when rolling in bed or turning the head quickly. This vertigo lasts for seconds, often followed with a fog or lightheadedness lasting for hours afterward. If diagnosed correctly, this can be treated with great success by a trained professional.3 You find more information here.
LOWER LIMB INJURIES RISK REDUCTION
Though not mentioned in the 2016 Consensus, within the sports concussion literature there has been growing evidence on how concussions may have an influence on future lower limb injuries. What is proposed is that after a concussion, the joints, muscles, and tendons in your legs have an impaired ability to detect where they are in space. Though this may not fall into the category of concussion rehabilitation, orthopedic rehabilitation can help address proprioception and neuromuscular control impairments for athletes who are looking to return to play.4
As for other common symptoms stemming from a concussion, other professionals including neurologists (migraine/headache specialist), neuropsychologists, speech therapists, and vision therapists would be great resources to consult. Ask your concussion management team if physical therapy is right for you and your symptoms and find a local clinic that has a clinician there to help you.
1. McCrory P, Meeuwisse W, Dvorak J, et al Consensus statement on concussion in sport—the 5th international conference on concussion in sport held in Berlin, October 2016 Br J Sports Med 2017;51:838-847.
2. Gurley JM, Hujsak BD, Kelly JL. Vestibular rehabilitation following mild traumatic brain injury. NeuroRehabilitation. 2013;32(3):519-528. doi:10.3233/NRE-130874.
3. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). American Physical Therapy Association. https://www.moveforwardpt.com/SymptomsConditionsDetail.aspx?cid=52822493-32f3-4d4c-8c56-8e18c41b2f85. Published September 1, 2015.
4. Kardouni JR, Shing TL, Mckinnon CJ, Scofield DE, Proctor SP. Risk for Lower Extremity Injury After Concussion: A Matched Cohort Study in Soldiers. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2018;48(7):533-540. doi:10.2519/jospt.2018.8053.
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