What to Expect After a Concussion

By Hannah Williams, PT, DPT, Physical Therapist at Boone Therapy

Your niece collided with an opponent at a soccer game. Your friend was rear-ended on the Business Loop. You fell from a ladder and hit your head. What do the three of you have in common? Probably a concussion!

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that temporarily affects the brain’s function. This can be caused by any impact or jolt to the head. And you don’t have to hit your head to sustain a concussion – a sudden stop, like in a car accident, can cause your soft brain to hit the hard skull encasing it, resulting in a concussion.

People at risk include athletes, older adults who have fallen, military personnel exposed to a blast, victims of violence and anyone involved in a car accident.

Immediate signs you have a concussion can include loss of consciousness, nausea or vomiting, confusion, clumsiness and difficulty remembering recent events. Seek medical care if you feel these symptoms or observe them in a loved one. X-rays, MRIs and CT scans won’t show a concussion; however, your provider can assess you for concussion symptoms and check your head and neck for other injuries.

Symptoms may change in the days following a head injury, including:

• Headache

• Sensitivity to light or sound

• Feeling more tired than usual

• Imbalance

• Dizziness

• Blurred vision with head movement

• Neck pain

• Thinking and memory changes

• Mood or behavior changes

Vestibular therapists, Hannah Williams, PT, DPT, Rachel Beanland, PT, DPT and Nicole Tunink, PT, DPT standing in front of a visually busy background, which they use to challenge dizzy patients.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a concussion, keep in mind that your brain has sustained an injury. Just like a pulled muscle, it needs a combination of rest and symptom-limited activity and exercise to recover. For the first 24 hours or so, rest and take it easy, then try to gradually return to your normal activities. High-quality, adequate sleep is important as you recover. You should also avoid activities that put you at risk of falling or hitting your head. A second head injury can significantly complicate recovery.

A return to activity will vary for each individual. Generally, you should let your symptoms guide your activity level. If you go to work and, after one hour of focusing on your computer screen, your symptoms return or worsen, it’s time to take a break. You may need to sit or lie down in a dark, quiet room for your symptoms to go away. When you feel better, try returning to the activity. If your symptoms get worse again, take another break or consider stopping for the day. This may require your workplace or school to make accommodations, but don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself. After all, what’s more important than your brain?

Work and exercise aren’t the only things that can stress your recovering brain. Phone time, video games, reading, driving and household chores can also bring on symptoms. These should be gradually increased over several days or weeks until you can tolerate your normal activities.

If you are still dealing with concussion symptoms after a week, it’s time to seek help. Your provider can refer you to physical therapy for treatment. Boone Therapy has three physical therapists trained to treat concussions and dizziness. Thanks to the generous support of the Boone Foundation, Rachel, Nicole and Hannah are American Institute of Balancecertified in Vestibular and Concussion Rehabilitation – and we’d love to help you get back on track.

At your first visit, we will test your eyes, balance, tolerance to physical activity such as walking, vestibular or inner ear system, and neck movement. We will also ask you about your symptoms and goals. You’ll receive targeted exercises and guidance to help your brain recover and allow full return to your favorite activities. Over the course of a few weeks, we’ll guide you through progressed activities to decrease your symptoms and recover normal function.

The good news is that, even though a concussion is a brain injury and should be taken very seriously, the prognosis is good. Most people with concussions make a complete recovery.

For more information on Therapy Services, visit www.boone.health/therapy-services or call 573-815-3868.