What You Need to Know About Concussions

Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury often caused by impact to the head, neck or face. The injury is often caused by shaking or jarring of the brain inside the skull or from a force transmitted to the head from contact elsewhere on the body. Sports injuries are often associated with concussions. However, they can also occur after a fall, car accident or whiplash injury. This type of brain injury leads to a variety of symptoms, including physical, emotional, postural a cognitive impairments.

Physical symptoms of a concussion include headache, dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, blurred vision, fatigue and impaired sleep. Emotional symptoms include irritability, sadness, anxiety and depression which impact cognitive abilities such as concentrating, thinking clearly and keeping up with work or school. Balance can also become affected, and symptoms of dizziness may occur. These symptoms appear immediately after an injury or gradually worsen within days or months. It is possible that people will not recognize or admit to having difficulties or fully understand the impact of a concussion on daily life.

Concussions occur at any age and are often missed in older adults. Worsening headache or confusion may warrant immediate medical attention especially in older adults taking blood thinners. Serious symptoms such as weakness, numbness or slurred speech indicate the need for immediate care. At the time of impact, you may or may not lose consciousness.

There are no diagnostic tests for a concussion. If suspected, the athlete or child should be removed from play until medically cleared. Diagnosis is made based on symptoms. Trauma to the brain can result in abnormal signals from the vestibular system. The brain relies on the vestibular system for visual and postural stability, thus, if there is an injury to this system, symptoms such as dizziness and imbalance will likely ensue.

Concussion and its subsequent symptoms typically improve within seven to 10 days, but the severity of the concussion, age, prior level of health and previous concussions may affect the recovery. Symptoms persisting beyond seven to 10 days may indicate the need for further medical attention. Your physician may recommend work or school accommodations and determine the need for further medical referral to a neurologist, psychologist, athletic trainer, occupational or vestibular physical therapist.

A concussion is a treatable diagnosis. Vestibular physical therapists help with headache management, dizziness and balance. The therapist will tailor an exercise prescription to improve eye coordination, musculoskeletal pain, balance and return to play.

Appropriate rest is important for recovery. Avoid multitasking, activities that increase headache or dizziness, and screen time on computers, smartphones or TVs. Get plenty of sleep and eat a well-balanced diet. Consult with friends or family when making important decisions or seeking medical treatment.

Concussion prevention is key. Wearing a helmet during recreational or organized sports including biking, rollerblading and ice skating is important to decrease the risk of concussion. Elderly populations should prevent falls by removing rugs, improving lighting and using assistive devices.

For more information on post-concussion rehabilitation, contact St. Luke’s Therapy Services at 314.205.6185.