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Aug 31, 2020

Concussion Physical Therapy for Athletes

concussion physical therapy for athletes

Concussion management for athletes is extremely important. Also known as traumatic brain injury (TBI), the effects of a concussion can be serious, especially if left untreated or ignored. Understanding the cause of a concussion, common symptoms, and beneficial treatments is the beginning of proper concussion management for athletes. Below, we dive into each of these facets.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion typically occurs after a sudden and unexpected blow to the head, causing the brain to bounce around in the skull. The unnatural jolting can lead to chemical changes within the brain, damaged brain cells, and unpleasant symptoms.

What are Common Concussion Symptoms?

Concussion symptoms range from seemingly “mild” to extremely serious. However, even mild symptoms should be immediately reported as concussion treatment can prevent further injury and lead to expediated recovery. Additionally, while concussion symptoms may not appear instantaneously, they can develop one or two days after the traumatic incident.

Commonly Observed Symptoms:

  • Immediate memory loss (i.e. trouble recalling events immediately prior to or after the traumatic incident)
  • Dazed or stunned look
  • Forgets instructions easily
  • Confusion over common tasks, such as the responsibility of a specific athletic position
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Uncharacteristic mood or behavior changes

Commonly Reported Symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Feeling a little “off” or simply not “feeling right”
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Feeling sluggish or groggy
  • Previous symptoms intensified by light or noise

One symptom misconception to correct is the assumption that every concussion involves loss of consciousness, or being “knocked out.” This is notthe case! Alternatively, most concussions occur without loss of consciousness, and such cases must still be taken seriously. The Permanente Journal concludes:

Although loss of consciousness was previously considered a marker of a more severe concussion, evidence does not support this conclusion; rather, amnesia has been shown to be most predictive of neurocognitive deficits.

Critical Considerations for the Athlete:

What Should I Do if I Think I Have a Concussion?

First and foremost, stop all physical activity you are participating in. It can be tempting for some athletes to minimize symptoms – or ignore them entirely – with the hope of returning to the game or avoiding down time. We understand the temptation!

However, even though you may feel like you can finish the game, complete practice, or keep competing with friends, playing through a traumatic brain injury is extremely serious. In fact, playing through a concussion places you at risk for Second Impact Syndrome (SIS).

Second Impact Syndrome occurs when a person suffers a second concussion shortly after an earlier concussion, before symptoms have subsided. When SIS occurs, the brain swells rapidly. Although fairly rare, SIS is often fatal.

Once again, The Permanente Journal explores this concept:

The athlete found to have concussion on the sideline should be removed from play immediately and not allowed to return that day under any circumstances. It is recommended to perform serial examinations to monitor for worsening neurologic decline. 

Next, reach out to a coach, athletic trainer, or doctor about your symptoms. Explain exactly how you feel to the best of your ability. Once again, reporting the first symptoms of a concussion will ultimately protect your athletic career for the future.

Thirdly, wait to return to physical activity until you have been permitted to do so by a medical professional. Depending on the severity of the concussion and treatment assignment, proper healing can take place within a week. If serious symptoms persist or worsen past a two-week period, you may be referred to a neurologist for additional testing.

What Are Ways I Can Naturally Expediate Healing From a Concussion?

As an athlete, taking a few practical measures can help accelerate healing.

  • Avoid any physical activity, including running, push-ups, or any other physical exercise
  • Avoid excessive screen usage, including video games and texting
  • Avoid loud music
  • Avoid situations with large, loud crowds
  • Always follow recommendations provided by your care specialist

What Are Ways I Can Protect Myself From a Concussion?

First, always wear the proper equipment while performing physical activity. Make sure your equipment is maintained and fits properly. Second, follow the rules associated with your sport. Finally, practice good technique. Poor technique can result in a higher chance of injury. For example, tackling an opponent improperly in American football could result in a concussion for either team member involved.

What Does Concussion Management Physical Therapy Involve?

Initial Diagnosis

Athletes who have suffered traumatic brain injury may be referred to a physical therapist for concussion management treatment, always utilized alongside a variety of other traditional therapy interventions. At an initial visit, your physical therapist may proceed to officially diagnose your injury through careful testing, including asking questions and performing simple tests. The physical tests often evaluate coordination, memory, smell, sight, and muscle strength.

Throughout the treatment process, your physical therapist will continually perform similar tests to judge progress over time. Additionally, your physical therapist may examine for neck problems associated with the concussion.

A Treatment Plan

Your physical therapy plan will likely include a number of the following treatments, chosen based on the results of the initial diagnosis.

  • Rest: as mentioned, rest from physical activity, loud music, and the use of electronics is a huge component of concussion recovery.
  • Strength training: taking a break from physical activity can result in mild muscle weakness or a decrease in endurance. Your physical therapist will likely prescribe a safe, therapeutic exercise program to walk through with you – carefully monitoring symptoms throughout the process.
  • Balance improvement: dizziness and imbalance are common concussion symptoms. Utilizing Vestibular Therapy techniques, your physical therapist will likely assist in regaining balance through special treatments and exercises.
  • Reducing headaches: implementing hands-on treatments like massage as well as strength exercises can help reduce and eventually eliminate headaches stemming from concussions.
  • Assistance with normal sporting activity: at the right time, your physical therapist will begin assisting with training to safely integrate normal sporting activity into your routine.

With complete concussion management, you will be back in action before long!

Rock Valley Physical Therapy

At Rock Valley Physical Therapy, we are committed to helping you get better – or finding someone who can. As a patient-centered, therapist-led organization, we are dedicated to our Midwestern communities and athletes. A proper concussion management system for athletes is extremely important, and we would love to help make the process of recovery as smooth as possible.

To reach out to our team of professionals, please do not hesitate to request an appointment today. Our front office team will be in contact with you shortly.