Physical Therapy

How Physical Therapy Can Help Those Who Have Sustained a Concussion.



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


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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.


Neck Rehabilitation


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 Rehabilitation


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. 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.


Information provided on and all of its web pages is intended for general educational and entertainment purposes and is not intended to be medical advice to you or any other person. You should always consult with your own medical provider about your health and medical questions and never rely on this or any other web site alone to make medical decisions. Never delay seeking medical advice or disregard any medical advice you have received from your provider because of anything you read or hear on this website.

Words Matter

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Words Matter:
Language choices made in medicine


Communication between patients and their medical providers plays a large role in a patient’s understanding of their diagnosis and management options. It can drive a patient’s decision to undergo surgery, start PT, or choose no treatment at all. Whether it is your PT or PCP, you are likely being infiltrated by words which may be scary and/or confusing. Some examples might be “disc herniation of L3-5, severe foraminal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, tibiofemoral osteoarthritis, etc, etc.”


Research has shown that when a more medically precise term is used to describe a patient’s condition, they tend to have a stronger preference for choosing more invasive treatment options even if this might not be the best option. Additionally, a person feeling fear or anxiety as a result of such terminology is going to have greater difficulty making informed decisions that let them be an active participant in their care. To keep the story short and sweet, try to not let words scare you. And if you do find yourself scared by your diagnosis and treatment option, ask for an explanation that helps you understand your diagnosis better and that lets you move forward with confidence in whatever treatment option you choose. Chances are your diagnosis may not be as bad as it sounds in words or on the MRI report you receive from your doctor; and it may have several conservative treatment options that would be beneficial. Be an active participant in your care and seek out the answers to the questions you have to ensure you’re getting the best possible treatment for your condition.

Citation: “Words do matter: a systematic review on how different terminology for the same condition influences management preferences”

What is a DPT?

What does DPT mean?


We as physical therapists get a lot of questions regarding the letters after our names. Most commonly, you will see “Mary Jane, PT, DPT” if that person has graduated in the last 10 – 15 years. Breaking that down, “PT” simply indicates the person’s title of Physical Therapist and means that they have passed their national licensure exam to treat patients. “DPT” indicates the degree that person has earned and stands for Doctor of Physical Therapy. If you see “MPT” that person just graduated before the transition to “DPT” and is no less qualified to treat you. The MPT was traditionally 2 years post-baccalaureate whereas the DPT is now 3 years. The next question that inevitably follows is, “Oh! So, you have a PhD?”  The answer to that question is “no”, but the semantics of it all can get confusing, so let’s clear that up.


The term “PhD” stands for Doctor of Philosophy and is the highest degree you can achieve in nearly every other discipline except medicine. This is a research degree which focuses on scholarly/professional development. People often go on to teach in their respective area after completing this degree. 

A Doctor of Physical Therapy is typically considered a professional or clinical degree. It focuses on the development of skills / knowledge needed to carry out the requirements of their profession. This involves a didactic classroom approach as well as in-clinic experience under the license of supervising practitioners in the field. Also different from a PhD, though similar to the DPT, is a Doctor of Medicine (MD), a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degrees. Though these programs differ significantly in length and content of the curriculum, they also do not result in a PhD. 

More on Caitlin and her other articles (click here)