WHAT IS A CONCUSSION?
According to WebMD, a concussion is "a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall, or another injury that jars or shakes the brain inside the skull." Concussions are a surprisingly common occurrence in sports. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1.6 million to 3.8 million people experience concussions during sports and recreational activities annually in the United States. These numbers may be underestimated, as many cases are never reported. High school athletes in particular suffer thousands of concussions every year, most often in football, ice hockey, and soccer.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A SPORTS-RELATED CONCUSSION?
Sports-related concussions often result in mental and physical symptoms (i.e., inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, headache, fatigue, dizziness). For many athletes, the symptoms disappear after about 2 weeks and typically do not last more than several months. In some cases, however, concussions lead to persistent physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral symptoms, sometimes referred to as post-concussion syndrome. It is unknown whether persistent post-concussive symptoms result from primarily medical or psychological causes. In rare cases, when repeated concussions occur over a brief interval, athletes may suffer from second impact syndrome, a pathological response of the brain that can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Those affected should seek careful evaluation and management of any sports-related concussion.
HOW SHOULD A SPORTS-RELATED CONCUSSION BE EVALUATED?
Concussions are typically managed according to their severity. Immediately after a concussion takes place, medical evaluation is neccesarry to determine an individual vital signs and level of consciousness and to rule out any other injuries, such as those to the spine. Recent guidelines indicate that anyone who loses consciousness as a result of trauma during a sporting event should be evaluated by a hospital emergency department. In less severe cases, athletes are typically evaluated on site rather than in hospital emergency departments. There are a variety of approaches to the "sideline" assessment of concussion. Guidelines are also available to assist in deciding when a child is ready to return to play after a concussion.
A physical therapist can assess symptoms of a concussion and treat the injury by guiding the patient through a safe and individualized recovery program. Treatment for concussions may include:
- Rest and recovery. Your physical therapist can 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. A period of rest helps the brain heal and helps symptoms clear up as quickly as possible.
- Restoring strength and endurance. The physical and mental rest required after a concussion can result in muscle weakness, and a decrease in physical endurance. Your physical therapist can help you regain your strength and endurance, when the right time comes, without making your symptoms worse. It is common for elite-level athletes and fit “weekend warriors” to experience exercise intolerance with concussion and brain injury. Your physical therapist can help you to identify and treat your specific symptoms.
- Stopping dizziness and improving balance. If you are experiencing dizziness or difficulty with balance, your physical therapist may be able to help reduce your dizziness and balance problems after a concussion using special treatments or teaching you specific exercises, some of which you may be able to do at home.
- Reducing headaches. Your physical therapist 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, and the use of technologies such as electrical stimulation.
- Returning to normal activity or sport. As symptoms diminish and you regain your normal strength and endurance without symptoms returning, your physical therapist will help you gradually add normal activities back into your daily routine. They will help you avoid overloading the brain and nervous system as you increase your activity level. Overloading the brain during activity after a concussion interferes with the healing of the brain tissue, and can make your symptoms return.
Changes in the rules for athletic competition have reduced the number of sports-related concussions. After the National Collegiate Athletic Association made the use of the head when tackling illegal in 1976, the annual number of head and neck injuries in football declined by about 50%. The required use of helmets in many contact sports and improvements in helmet design has also resulted in fewer head injuries. Making sure helmets and other gear fits and are worn properly, as well as asking a coach or other sports professional about safe playing techniques will also make a difference.
If you or a loved one have suffered a concussion, The Smith Clinic can help! Call us today at 901.756.1650 to make an appointment and get started on your road to recovery!