Concussions: A Physical Therapist's Guide for Parents and Athletes
Concussion - Defined
According to the CDC, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching the nerve tissue and causing a temporary impairment or altered brain function. This impairment is a direct result of chemical changes in the brain following a concussion.
Every concussion is considered a serious injury by health care providers.
Signs & Symptoms
There are many symptoms related to concussion. Some symptoms occur immediately, some a few hours after injury, and some months or years after a concussion.
- Headache or Dizziness
- Difficulty with balance
- Fatigue/Increased sleepiness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Double or blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Slurred speech
- Glassy-eyed stare
- Difficulty with memory
- Difficulty concentrating
- Worsening grades in school
- Mood swings
- Decreased tolerance of stress
- Change in personality or behavior
How Concussions Are Diagnosed
Concussion is most often diagnosed through careful testing by your health care provider, like a physical therapist or athletic trainer.
Your physical therapist or athletic trainer will ask you many questions to understand all of the symptoms you are experiencing. They will also perform numerous tests to identify problems caused by concussion, including strength, coordination, balance, sight, smell, hearing, and memory tests.
Your physical therapist or athletic trainer may also examine your neck for problems following a concussion. Neck injuries can occur at the same time as concussions, and can cause or increase headaches and dizziness.
How a Physical Therapist Can Help
Rest & Recovery – Your PT will help you and your family understand why you should limit any kind of activity after a concussion until it is safe to return to these activities.
Restoring Strength & Endurance – Your PT can help you regain your strength and endurance, when the right time comes, without making your concussion symptoms worse. They will design a therapeutic exercise program just for you and closely monitor your symptoms as you participate.
Stopping Dizziness & Improving Balance – A qualified vestibular physical therapist may be able to help reduce or stop your dizziness or balance problems after a concussion by applying special treatments or teaching you specific exercises.
Reducing Headaches – Your PT will assess the different possible causes of your headaches and use specific treatments and exercises to reduce and eliminate them. Treatment may include stretches, strength and motion exercises, eye exercises, hands-on techniques, and the use of electrical stimulation.
Returning to Normal Activity or Sport – Your PT will help return you to your normal life and sport activities in the quickest and safest way possible, while allowing your brain to properly heal.