Concussions and Physical Therapy

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Concussions are a very common injury to the brain that generally occur as a result of direct trauma to the head or trauma to the body that causes a whiplash type motion to the head and neck.  It is estimated that 1.6 to 3.8 million sports related concussions occur annually in the US.  There is a 12% incidence rate of concussion in youth sports and in addition many concussions in children occur during recreational activities such as biking, horseback riding, and playing on the playground. Girls in sports are 1.5 times as likely to sustain a concussion than boys when participating in the same sport.   In addition to sports and recreational activities adults often experience concussions due to falls, car accidents, or work- related incidents.  In the military concussions also often occur as a result of a blast.  It is estimated that symptoms from concussion resolve in 80% of people within 3 weeks but that means that 1 out of 5 people continue to suffer from the symptoms of concussion for greater than 3 weeks.

The most common symptom of concussion is a headache but many people will also experience symptoms such as nausea, light or noise sensitivity, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss and moodiness/depression. Attempts at increasing physical activity or returning to activities which require increased levels of concentration such as work or school will often cause an increase in symptoms.  Historically concussions were treated with strict rest but it has been discovered that this can actually cause a delay in recovery.  Typically, rest is prescribed for the first 24-48 hours with a gradual and graded return to physical and mental activity being the next step.  Patients need to listen to their symptoms and gradually increase activity levels with periods of rest as needed.

Physical therapy may be able to help in the recovery process.  Certain eye and vestibular exercises as well as exercise and manual therapy for the cervical spine may help with headaches and dizziness.  Gradual increases in aerobic exercise may also help to speed recovery.  Physical therapy can also address any balance disturbances that may be present.  There is some evidence that neck strength can play a role in reducing your concussion risk.  It has also been reported that following a concussion people are at increased risk for a lower extremity injury for up to a year.  Physical therapy may be able to address this increased risk through strengthening and balance exercises.  Your physical therapist can also help to guide you through the return to sport process which will include gradual return to sport specific drills, return to non-contact practice, full practice, and finally full return to competition. 

If you or a loved one has experienced a concussion and the symptoms have not resolved the physical therapists at Great Northern Physical Therapy may be able to help.  We have specialized equipment and training to assess your condition and apply appropriate treatment techniques to speed recovery and reduce the risk of recurrence.  Don’t think you have to continue to suffer or assume there is nothing you can do, take an active role in your recovery and contact us today.

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