In the past few years, concussion has received a great deal of attention as people in the medical and sports worlds have begun to speak out about the long-term problems associated with this injury. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that in sports alone, more than 3.8 million concussions occur each year. Recent scientific evidence highlights the need for proper care to prevent complications from concussion.
If you think you might have a concussion:
Concussion is a brain injury that occurs when the brain is shaken inside the skull, causing changes in the brain’s chemistry and energy supply. A concussion might happen as a result of a direct blow to the head or an indirect force, such as whiplash. You might or might not lose consciousness.
Concussion is easy to miss because diagnostic imaging, such as such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan, usually is normal.
Because of the variety of possible symptoms that can interfere with day-to-day activity, seek coordinated medical care immediately. Your health care professionals may include a physician with expertise in concussion, a neuropsychologist, and a vestibular physical therapist (a physical therapist who specializes in treating balance disorders and dizziness).
After a concussion, limit any kind of exertion. The brain won’t have time to heal if you increase physical exertion too soon—such as returning to social activities or sports—or if you increase cognitive demands too soon, such as returning to school or work. You can slowly resume normal activities only once your symptoms have improved and stay improved.
Physical therapists can evaluate and treat many problems related to concussion. Because no two concussions are the same, the physical therapist’s examination is essential to assess your individual symptoms and limitations. The physical therapist then designs a treatment program.
If you have dizziness or difficulty with your balance following a concussion, vestibular physical therapy may help. The vestibular system, which includes the inner ear and its connections with the brain, is responsible for sensing head movement, keeping your eyes focused when you move your head, and helping you keep your balance. A qualified vestibular physical therapist can provide specific exercises and training to reduce or stop dizziness and improve balance and stability.
Your physical therapist will examine you for neck problems following a concussion. Neck injuries can cause headaches and contribute to some forms of dizziness. Your therapist also can assess your back for possible injuries to your spine.
As symptoms due to concussion improve, your physical therapist will help you resume physical activity gradually, to avoid overloading the brain and nervous system that have been compromised by concussion.
It’s important that you follow the recommendations of all health care professionals so that you can achieve the greatest amount of recovery in the shortest amount of time.