Concussions: The DOs and DON’Ts of Recovery
Tuesday, March 2, 2018
Written by: Cora Tomowich
Calling all those who have endured a concussion! Did you know that March is Brain Injury Awareness Month?
I would like to take a moment to chat about some important considerations when it comes to concussion management. Often times, what we are told from the media and/or our peers is not entirely accurate. So I thought it might be a good idea to share a few notes about concussion, as well as, Post-Concussion Syndrome.
What is a Concussion?
A concussion is considered to be a mild form of traumatic brain injury and is the most common type of head injury resulting from direct or indirect forces to the head. Common causes include, but are not limited to, falls, blunt trauma, automobile accidents, whiplash, and/or sports-related injuries. Concussion symptoms are usually temporary and may include:
- Dizziness or blurred vision
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Sleep disturbances
- Sensitivity to light and sounds
- Loss of consciousness
- Memory/attention difficulties
- Balance problems
- Feeling overly upset, anxious, or sad
It is important to keep in mind that you do not have to have lost consciousness in order to have sustained a concussion. Concussions can happen while we are conscious as well. It is also important to know that although a concussion is considered to be a mild brain injury, it can still have lasting effects if not treated properly.
How is a Concussion Treated?
The best treatment for a concussion often involves rest and graduated exposure to activities of daily living. After an injury, the brain needs time to repair and heal. Proper rest may include limiting screen time (i.e., TV, computer, phone), avoiding sports or other vigorous activity, adopting a protein- and vegetable-rich diet, and allowing for good sleep.
After sustaining a single, isolated concussion, prognosis for recovery is generally quite favourable depending on the extent of the injury. It is also important to note that after you have sustained one concussion, it is easier to acquire another…so take care!
What is Post-Concussion Syndrome?
If not managed properly, the symptoms of an acute concussion can linger and eventually become a more chronic condition known as Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). In other words, PCS is a medical problem that persists for a period of time after a head injury has occurred; and this period of time can range from weeks to months to years. Common causes of PCS include all those associated with acute concussions when they have not been given enough time to fully heal prior to returning to activity. Some studies show that women and elders are more likely to experience PCS after a concussion.
PCS includes many of the same symptoms as an acute concussion; however, management is more challenging and recovery is often delayed. In the case of PCS, research evidence suggests that individuals are at a greater risk of developing lasting impairments that can limit overall functional ability.
Symptoms of PCS tend to be non-specific, vague, and may include:
- Long-term light and sound sensitivities
- Sleep disorders
- Cognitive problems involving memory, concentration, and thinking
- Psychosocial problems such as depressed mood, anxiety, irritability, and social withdrawal
- Inability to perform regular work routines and duties
- Difficulty with activities of daily life
How is PCS Treated?
Research shows that when it comes to treating PCS, an integrative healthcare approach is best. A neurologist, for example, may recommend certain medications to help with pain and headaches, while a psychologist may help with mood changes and stress. As a physiotherapist, I will often focus on relaxing the nervous system, releasing tight neck and back tissue, and providing exercises that gently challenge and re-build the balance systems of the body and brain.
In my practice, I also spend a lot of time teaching patients about what a concussion is, what rehabilitation can do to help, and how to manage symptoms at home without doing too much too soon. I will often inform patients about good and not-so-good activities as they relate to the early rehabilitation period. Below is a list of some of the basic DOs and DON’Ts in managing concussion symptoms and preventing the onset of PCS:
- Allow yourself to rest physically and mentally
- Sleep in a posture that helps to support the neck and back
- Monitor your symptoms and return to work or sport only when you feel completely recovered
- Seek the advice of your family doctor if you should experience more severe symptoms, such as, fainting spells or loss of consciousness, extreme balance or sleep disturbances, prolonged nausea or vomiting, hearing or vision impairments, or seizures
- Participate in vigorous or high-impact activity
- Drink alcohol, coffee, or other sugary beverages
- Use recreational drugs
- Listen to loud noises or music, if possible
- Look at bright lights or strobe lights
- Reside or participate in stressful situations
- Exhaust yourself with schoolwork
- Read fine print
- Stare at your phone or computer screen for prolonged periods
- Watch TV or play video games
- Take any medications unless directed to do so by your family doctor… some pain-relieving medications may increase the risk of experiencing a brain-bleed… not fun!
As with most injuries, a concussion needs time to heal. Many patients express how they hate having to rest and restrict activity, as it feels like nothing is being done to promote recovery. Well, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Rest is active therapy for the brain, an organ which is all-go, non-stop 24/7! We need to give this magnificent structure a chance to re-build and repair after an injury – even a minor one. So take the time to recover properly, believe me it is better to take it slow than to rush and risk re-injury.
If you have any questions or concerns about your specific needs, please do not hesitate to reach out… We are happy to help 🙂 Until next time!