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Is Physical Therapy Good for Concussions?

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Written By Greg Specht

Summer season often brings a spike in outdoor activities and sports, which increases the likelihood of suffering from injuries such as concussions. It’s important to recognize signs, symptoms, and how physical therapy can aid in preventing lasting issues.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a mild form of TBI. It usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head. This sudden movement can cause the brain cells to stretch, potentially damaging brain tissue and disrupting normal brain function. Anyone from infants to the elderly can get one.

They are often linked with sports-related incidents. However, they can also occur in various situations, including falls, car accidents, or even everyday accidents. Concussions are not usually life-threatening, but the effects can be severe, persisting for days, weeks or even longer.

A man holding his neck after getting hurt in a car accident.

Do You Have to Pass Out to Have a Concussion? 

No, you don’t have to pass out. Many people with them never lose consciousness but exhibit other symptoms like confusion, headaches, dizziness, and more. Always seek medical attention after a head injury, whether you’ve passed out or not.

How Long Does a Concussion Last?

The symptoms can last for days, weeks, or even longer. However, most people recover fully within three months.

Can Concussions Cause Permanent Damage?

Most do not cause permanent brain damage. But repeated injury to the head, especially if not fully recovered can lead to long-term problems.

Do Concussions Always Involve a Hit to The Head?

Not necessarily. One can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.

Is It Necessary to Have A CT scan Or MRI For a Concussion?

Not always. These imaging tests are usually reserved for severe cases where more serious injuries need to be ruled out. Most concussions are diagnosed through a clinical exam.

What’s The Difference Between a Concussion and a TBI?

A concussion is a specific type of traumatic brain injury that is usually caused by a blow to the head or body, leading to temporary changes in brain function. On the other hand, TBI is a broader term that includes all types of brain injuries from mild to severe. So, while all concussions are TBIs, not all TBIs are concussions.

Can You Prevent a Concussion?

While preventing all concussions is impossible, wearing protective gear during sports, using seat belts, and creating a safe home environment can reduce the risk.

Can Physical Therapy Help with Concussion Treatment?

Absolutely! Physical therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for concussions. Studies indicate that it can significantly reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. It’s a non-invasive, drug-free option that addresses the root cause of symptoms, rather than simply masking them.

How Common Are Concussions? 

They are surprisingly common, especially among athletes. Here are some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • It is estimated that 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur annually in the United States.
  • Approximately 80% of TBIs in the US each year are concussions or other mild forms of TBI.
  • Children and teens are at a higher risk for concussions, with more than 800,000 young individuals visiting the emergency department for concussion-related issues annually.
  • Most people recover from a concussion within 2 to 4 weeks, and 15 to 30% of individuals may experience persistent symptoms. 
A woman dealing with a headache.

Signs and Symptoms of Concussions

While some symptoms are immediately noticeable, others may not be as obvious and could take hours or even days to appear. Some common signs and symptoms of concussions include:

  • Headache (the most common symptom)
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing ears
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble remembering what happened
  • Visual disturbances, such as blurry or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Mood changes (such as irritability, depression, or anxiety)

If you suspect you may have sustained a concussion, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly. Proper diagnosis and early intervention are essential for a successful recovery.

The Role of Physical Therapy in Concussion Treatment

Physical therapists possess the knowledge and expertise to assess and treat a wide range of injuries, including concussions. They offer individualized treatment programs to address lingering symptoms, restore function, and prevent future injuries. Here are some ways a physical therapist can help during your recovery process:

Vestibular Rehabilitation

One of the primary areas of treatment involves vestibular rehabilitation. Vestibular rehabilitation is a specialized form of physical therapy to treat dizziness, balance issues, and other symptoms related to vestibular dysfunction – the inner ear’s balance system. Physical therapists use specialized exercises to help patients restore normal vestibular function.

Restorative Exercises

Physical therapists also prescribe restorative exercises to help patients regain strength, flexibility, and endurance. These exercises may include stretching, balance training, and aerobic activities, which improve overall physical fitness and promote recovery.

Vision and Eye Movement Training

Visual disturbances may persist, but physical therapists can provide targeted exercises and activities that help restore normal eye movement patterns and alleviate visual symptoms.

Education on Concussion Management

A critical aspect of recovery is understanding how to manage this injury. Physical therapists will educate you on proper management techniques, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, staying hydrated, and adhering to a gradual return-to-activity plan.

Return-to-Play Guidelines

A critical aspect of treatment is determining when patients are ready to return to sports or physical activities. Physical therapists work closely with patients to establish individualized return-to-play guidelines and monitor progress through regular assessments. This helps ensure a safe and successful return to activities without risking further injury.

Tips for Staying Healthy and Active During Recovery

During the recovery period, patients should focus on the following:

  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water, as staying hydrated helps your brain heal.
  • Sleep: Get enough rest, as proper sleep is crucial for brain healing.
  • Pace Yourself: Gradually reintroduce physical activities and stop immediately if any symptoms return.
  • Communication: Talk to your physical therapist about any symptoms or concerns that may arise during recovery.
  • Follow Up: Schedule regular follow-up appointments with your physical therapist to ensure optimal health and recovery.

Physical therapy is not just good for concussions—it’s essential. It offers a comprehensive treatment approach that targets the various challenges posed by this condition, promoting recovery and reducing the risk of long-term complications. If you or someone you know has suffered a concussion, don’t hesitate to seek help from a qualified physical therapist.