The number of diagnosed concussions have grown exponentially in recent years by improving the general public’s awareness of how to properly identify the symptoms of a concussion. However, most people are unaware of what treatments are available to ensure the symptoms resolve and full recovery is achieved. These symptoms can result in a significant amount of disability in daily life and can also become persistent if not managed properly. Recent high level evidence has proven that specialized physiotherapy concussion treatment is not only effective, but can also reduce the time it takes for patients to fully recover. During the most recent International Conference on Concussion in Sport, the world’s leading researchers identified physiotherapy as a beneficial treatment option for patients suffering from concussion symptoms.
The symptoms of a concussion can be very diverse and can include:
- Neck Pain & Headaches – these are the most commonly reported concussion symptoms. During the initial trauma there is significant stress not only on the head, but the neck as well. Neck muscles, joints, ligaments and joint sensors called proprioceptors can all be injured. These areas can cause referred headache pain. Treating the neck with manual therapy, stretches, strengthening, taping and special joint position retraining exercises can help alleviate these symptoms
- Visual Impairments – blurred vision, light sensitivity and low tolerance to electronic screens can occur due to problems with the pathways that control our vision. Retraining the eyes through special exercises and reducing the strain on the eyes with binasal occlusion can help improve these symptoms
- Vestibular/Balance Impairments – Light-headedness, feeling foggy and being off balance are also frequently experienced. Our balance system comes from a synchronized effort between our inner ears, eyes and special joint sensors in our neck called proprioceptors. If one of these systems is not functioning properly these balance symptoms can persist. Special treatment called vestibular retraining involving balance, neck and eye exercises can help improve these symptoms
- Cardiovascular Deconditioning – fatigue, lack of energy and poor tolerance to physical activity or sports can also be prevalent. Individualized, supervised, gradual progression of physical activity and cardiovascular exercise can help build up a patient’s stamina to return them to work, sports, or other daily activities
- Mental Health Issues – sadness, anxiety, mood swings can also be frequently experienced during the recovery process. Research has clearly shown that this is one of the main factors that leads to concussion symptoms becoming chronic. Proper identification and management of mental health symptoms are vital for any successful recovery. Meditation, stress management techniques, breathing exercises and education can all be used to empower the patient to overcome these symptoms
Other Areas of Treatment:
- Education/Activity Modification – is the most important aspect of proper concussion management. Managing the patient’s expectations, reassuring them about their recovery and ensuring that their daily activity level is appropriate for their stage of recovery are all vital aspects to help gradually progress their recovery, reduce the risk of having a sudden flare up of symptoms and preventing the symptoms from becoming chronic
- Return to School/Sport/Work – a customized gradual return to activity program is created to ensure that there are no major setbacks during the recovery process. These programs help to ensure that the patient makes a full recovery back to all of these desired activities in a safe and structured manner
- Referral – occasionally there are other aspects of the concussion that may need to be address by other health care professionals. If necessary, patients can be referred to other professionals to help aid in the recovery process and can include, Occupational Therapy for cognitive issues, Psychology for mental health issues and Neuro-Ophthalmology for vision impairments
Each concussion is very unique in how much each component contributes to the patients overall symptoms. A thorough assessment will evaluate each one of these categories so that a custom tailored treatment plan can be created specifically for each patient. Due to the complex nature of these injuries, extra clinical time is scheduled for each patient, so that everyone gets the necessary individual time with their therapist. There is much more that can be done beyond general rest to help recover from a concussion. Specialized physiotherapy treatment can help empower patients, treat any relevant physical areas that are contributing to their symptoms, reduce the overall recovery time, monitor and help manage any mental health issues to reduce the risk of the symptoms becoming chronic and ensure that patients return to all their sport, work or daily activities in a safe and gradual fashion.