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Physical Therapy | Balance | Neurological Recovery

How To Treat Concussions: Physical Therapy and Concussion Recovery

February 12th, 2023 | 4 min. read

How To Treat Concussions: Physical Therapy and Concussion Recovery
Kayla Brook

Kayla Brook

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Dry Needling Certified // Orthopedic Certified Specialist // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

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You might have heard about concussions in sports news, specifically within the NFL. Football players incur many head injuries due to the nature of their sport, and concussion protocols have been significantly improved in recent years to ensure players get the treatment they need as quickly as possible, including changes to helmet design. But football is not the only sport with a risk of head injuries - cheerleading, gymnastics, and many other sports have an inherent risk of concussions. You do not have to be an athlete to be at risk for a concussion; falls and car accidents can also cause them. So what do you do if you or someone you know gets a concussion? What is the treatment protocol? 


While rest is often the best and easiest treatment for a concussion, it is essential to seek medical attention to treat any presenting symptoms. You could have neck pain and dizziness, or you could feel confused and get a lot of headaches. With rest and the proper care, you can be back on your feet and return to your daily routine. Physical therapy can help with some symptoms of concussions, and our team at EW Motion Therapy is skilled in these treatment progressions. We want to ensure you understand the different ways concussions can present and some resources available, even if you decide our services are not the best fit. 


Read on for our discussion of what a concussion is, the best treatment, and how physical therapy can treat concussion symptoms. 


Download our Physical Therapy Q&A Here!


What is a concussion? 

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). It can be caused by a direct impact to the head or through indirect forces, like whiplash, and you may or may not lose consciousness. The primary symptoms of a concussion include neck pain, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, balance issues, blurred vision, confusion or brain fog, light sensitivity, and increased difficulty concentrating. You can also experience cognitive symptoms, such as irritability, restlessness, anxiety, depression, mood swings, aggression, decreased stress tolerance, and changes in personality or behavior. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms, as they may be signs of a more serious injury.


Concussion recovery can take weeks or months, depending on your age and the severity of the injury. A longer recovery time may be required for those with prior concussions, eye tracking/movement issues from childhood, migraines, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or a learning disability. If you continue to experience headaches or dizziness for weeks or months after your initial injury, you could have postconcussion syndrome. Additionally, second impact syndrome can happen when a second concussion occurs shortly after the first one, causing permanent brain damage.  


What are the treatment options for a concussion? 

After direct or indirect head trauma, it is vital to monitor the person for the onset of concussion symptoms for at least 24 hours after the impact. Progression of symptoms can vary between individuals, but in the worst cases, a concussion can have long-lasting effects on brain function and performance. The best protection against adverse side effects is treating the symptoms quickly. 


Rest is often the best healer for a concussion, and you should remove anything from the environment that could exacerbate symptoms, like screens and bright light. They should not read, concentrate on school or work-related tasks, or drive for a while - the specific time depends on the severity of the injury and the symptoms they present. Your doctor could prescribe pain relievers, muscle relaxants, or anti-seizure medicines to help manage symptoms of headaches, dizziness, and other forms of discomfort. Other treatments may include cognitive behavioral therapy or vision therapy to help treat issues associated with balance, coordination, and vision problems. 


No matter what type of concussion treatment you choose, it is important to have patience and follow the treatment plan carefully to ensure a full recovery. If symptoms persist after a few weeks of rest, seek medical attention and discuss other treatment options with your doctor.


How can physical therapy help with concussion recovery?

Physical therapy can be a good treatment option for concussion symptoms, along with proper rest and following any other recommendations from your doctor. Concussion physical therapy focuses on regaining normal brain function and helping to reduce headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms associated with a concussion. With physical therapy, the injured individual is capable of recovering and better maneuvering their injured body, decreasing the chance of additional injury.


Additionally, physical therapists can help with cognitive exercises such as memory training and problem-solving tasks. These activities help patients recover from cognitive issues such as memory loss, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Physical therapists can also develop an exercise program tailored to the individual's needs and helps them regain muscle strength and flexibility. This can be done through light exercises such as stretching, strength training, and balance activities. In the clinic, they can implement manual therapy techniques and observe your functional movement to make sure proper movement patterns have not changed. If you are an athlete, they can work with your coach or trainer to update your progress and ensure a safe return to sport. 


Once you get some rest and find the right treatment plan, you can heal from your concussion and return to your daily routine, including your sports. We help our clients with concussions at EW Motion Therapy to restore healthy movement patterns, reduce pain, and help them return to their everyday activities. If you are curious about what else physical therapy can do for you, click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently-asked physical therapy questions. 


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