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Recognizing a Concussion

“It’s just a concussion". If you’ve ever had a concussion or have known someone who’s suffered a concussion, then you may have heard that sentence before.

However, concussions are complex injuries that require complex treatment. Discover what a concussion is, the warning signs, and how physical therapy can help you recover.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a forceful hit to the head that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth, which can lead to a functional neurologic deficit. In other words, a concussion can affect the way your brain functions.

Despite what many may think, you don’t have to experience loss of consciousness in order to have a concussion. Concussions rarely lead to unconsciousness in most people.

Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion

In identifying a concussion, we look for the most common signs and symptoms. Symptoms are things the patient reports themselves, things affecting them, and things they're experiencing.

A sign is something another person may notice when evaluating a patient after a head injury. Commons symptoms that you may notice include:

  • A headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Noise or light sensitivity
  • Feeling weak, sluggish, cloudy, or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion

Common signs that others may notice include:

  • Looking dazed or stunned
  • Clumsiness
  • Reacting slowly to questions
  • Unconsciousness
  • Behaving differently or showing a change in personality
  • Having difficulty recalling events before or after a fall or hit

Diagnosing and Treating a Concussion

An experienced athletic trainer or another qualified health professional can diagnose a concussion based on the patient’s signs and symptoms. Following the diagnosis, they'll decide how to treat the concussion.

After a head injury, an experienced physician should see the patient within one to three days and recommend cognitive and physical rest. The physician will likely recommend that the patient get plenty of rest after a head injury.

If possible, the individual should see a physician on a weekly basis until all symptoms have subsided. To ensure that brain function is returning to normal, a post-injury neurocognitive test (ImPACT) should be performed.

How Can Physical Therapy Help Treat a Concussion?

Traditionally, medical professionals recommended complete rest as the most effective approach to treating a concussion. It appears, however, that a more active approach, including physical therapy, is more effective than rest.

Physical therapy that targets the neck and vestibular system, which includes the inner ear and its connections to the brain, can speed up recovery after a concussion. Nowadays, it’s becoming a standard practice to take an active approach to help patients recover.

By using targeted exercises, physical therapy can help patients stay physically active within the limitations of their recovery plan, while addressing symptoms like dizziness, headaches, and balance issues. Also, physical therapy can help patients regain their ability to participate in their favorite activities and prevent re-injury.

It may be necessary for your physical therapist to work closely with other health professionals who are responsible for your safety. With the help of the therapist, you can create a customized program to strengthen your neck and core. This will reduce the risk of concussions. If you’re an athlete, it’s best to work closely with a coach, a trainer, and a physical therapist, so they can help you handle any physical stress associated with the sport.

There are many types of concussion physical therapy treatments available, including:

  • Manual therapy: Physical therapy manual treatments include hands-on techniques like massage and technologies like electrical stimulation and instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM).
  • Vestibular rehabilitation: The goal of vestibular rehabilitation is to improve the relationship between the inner ear, the brain, the eyes, the muscles, and the nerves. At AmeriCare Physical Therapy, this treatment is often used for patients who have recently suffered a concussion.
  • Balance and coordination therapy: The benefits of physical therapy include improving coordination and balance, treating vision issues, helping you relax your neck and head muscles, and overcoming exercise intolerance.

What to Expect At Your Physical Therapy Session for a Concussion

As part of your initial concussion physical therapy appointment, your physical therapist will conduct a series of diagnostic tests to confirm the concussion and determine the severity of symptoms.

For example, he or she may evaluate you to determine if you’re having balance issues, neck tenderness, or chronic headaches.

This information will enable your physician to determine what type of concussion physical therapy you will need to recover from your concussion.

Your physical therapist will likely perform the following diagnostic exams:

  • A neurological exam: To determine the severity of the concussion, a physical therapist will examine your vision, hearing, strength, balance, coordination, and reflexes.
  • A cognitive test: The purpose of this test is to determine if you have any memory loss or difficulty concentrating.
  • CT scan or MRI: Having an imaging scan performed will allow your physician to determine the extent of the damage and the severity of the concussion.

With this information, your physical therapist can put together a comprehensive concussion treatment plan.

Concussion Management at AmeriCare Physical Therapy

Physical therapists are capable of offering patients recovering from a brain injury a wide range of treatments, including specific exercises that help them with specific symptoms. A good physical therapist will design a treatment plan based on your unique situation and needs. You'll get that from AmeriCare's experienced physical therapists.

An ounce of prevention is certainly worth more than a pound of cure when it comes to the head and neck region. Set up an appointment with our office.

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