Understanding concussion: Physical therapy can help

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As we approach the start of school sports seasons, it’s important for parents to understand concussion and how physical therapy can help.

A concussion is a mild brain injury from direct or indirect trauma to the head. Concussion is known as an “invisible injury,” since it’s often not seen on an MRI or CT scan. Concussions can range in severity, and symptoms can include:

  • Emotional/mood disturbances
  • Light and noise sensitivity
  • Cognitive impairment/memory loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Dizziness
  • Motion sensitivity
  • Visual impairment
  • Neck disorders
  • Pain

You might assume that a concussion involves passing out or losing consciousness, but that’s not always the case. In many cases, a person with a concussion never loses consciousness. If your child suspects they’ve suffered a concussion while playing a sport, they should stop play immediately. Continuing to play or practice with a concussion is dangerous and can lead to longer recovery.

It is important to allow the brain to heal after a concussion. But, this doesn’t mean you should do nothing. Staying still can make your brain more sensitive to movement. New research shows returning to a normal routine can aid in recovery. Modify your activities, but don’t avoid activity completely.

Here are some things you can do to help with recovery:

  • Do 30 minutes of daily low-impact aerobic exercise
  • Get adequate hydration and nutrition
  • Try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night
  • Limit screen time

Alternate short amounts of activity with rest periods, and use your symptoms as a guide. If symptoms get worse, decrease your activity level. Just as you would not run a marathon the day after knee surgery, you should not do too much too soon following a concussion.

Physical therapy can also optimize recovery. Vestibular physical therapy, for instance, includes various head and eye exercises designed to improve your balance and reduce dizziness. A physical therapist can also prescribe other exercises to improve your coordination, endurance and tolerance for physical exertion. The first few sessions of physical therapy may make you feel worse but, over time, you will begin to feel better as your tolerance for activity improves.

The time it takes to recover from a concussion varies. Different factors can include the severity of your injury, whether or not you’ve had a concussion before and your family history of migraine. Before returning to sports, get the okay from your doctor.

Authors

Ortega_MeganEmily_OlsonMegan Ortega, DPT, GCS, and Emily Olsen, DPT, NCS, are physical therapists at Anne Arundel Medical Group (AAMG) Physical Therapy. For more information on vestibular physical therapy for treatment of concussion, or to schedule an appointment, call 443-481-1140.

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