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Concussion Treatments Have Changed: What To Know

If you suffer a concussion, you likely no longer will be urged to rest quietly for long periods in a darkened room. Concussion treatment has evolved significantly over the years. As we have learned more about these troubling brain injuries, we know that a more active recovery is ideal.

If you or your child experiences a concussion, the right treatment and physical therapy can speed up the recovery time and reduce the risk of a second concussion resulting from returning too quickly to the field or court.

What it Means To Be Concussed

A concussion is an injury that affects how your brain functions. This commonly happens in falls, sporting activities or accidents when your head is struck or your body is hit in a way that whips your head back and forth. The blow or rapid movement causes chemical and metabolic changes to occur.

The symptoms of a concussion can vary from person to person. They include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion, mental fogginess or difficulty concentrating
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems (including double vision)
  • Difficulty sleeping or staying awake
  • Light and noise sensitivity
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Unexpected mood changes (including depression, irritability and anxiousness)

Treating a Concussion

Instead of recommending a lengthy period of bed rest, your doctor will prescribe limited rest, giving your brain time to recover without overtaxing it. That will likely mean avoiding school or work for a day or two after the injury. You want to stay away from situations that might overstimulate your brain and make your symptoms worse initially and gradually increase your activity as you recover. This gradual increase in activity is dictated by your symptoms. If you start feeling worse, it won’t help if you try to push through it.

Think of your symptoms on a scale of one to 10. You don’t want to do anything that will increase your symptom rating by more than three points. For example, consider that you have a headache that you rate as a one; if you return to work and find that your headache rating increases to four or more, you need to take a break until the symptoms subside. The approach requires you to be self-aware and evaluate your own symptoms. But the goal is to avoid setbacks that will prolong your recovery.

There are other factors to consider as your brain heals:

  • Drink plenty of water and eat healthy food.
  • Complete daily activity. Complete non-contact light daily aerobic exercise such as walking. This has been shown to positively impact concussion recovery.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Have a set sleep schedule and stick to a regular routine. Rest is critical after a concussion. Aim for eight straight hours rather than relying on naps throughout the day. You want a normal routine, where you sleep at night and are active during the day.
  • Manage your stress. Unmanaged stress can impact recovery from a concussion. Having techniques and activities that reduce stress are beneficial and should be used throughout recovery.
  • Take eye breaks as needed during screen time. Keep in mind the 20/20/20 rule for eye breaks, every 20 minutes look 20 ft away for 20 seconds to give your eyes a break.
  • Focus on one task at a time. Multitasking forces your brain to work harder. Keep your attention on one thing at a time and accept that it might take a little longer to accomplish some of your tasks.
  • Cautious driving. Ask for a ride, call a cab or use a ride-sharing service if you feel unwell.

Physical Therapy’s Role

Not every concussion needs the assistance of a physical therapist. It depends largely upon the symptoms you are experiencing.

If you have dizziness or balance issues, vestibular rehabilitation therapy can help. Depending on how you are affected, exercises can help you control your gaze stability, regain balance and improve your strength and flexibility.

And if you are involved in sports, you may benefit from exertion testing, an evaluation that uses a treadmill to measure your capacity to exercise without making your symptoms worse. This helps you have a better understanding of your capabilities and gives you a target range for your heart rate which can guide the intensity of your workouts and training.

Everyone recovers from a concussion at a different pace. It typically takes two weeks to a month, but there are those who recover more quickly or more slowly. Give your brain time to heal and don’t rush it.

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have had a concussion. The earlier care is initiated, the better the outcome.

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