When you hear of someone diagnosed with a ‘concussion’ what are your immediate thoughts? Do you know what having a concussion means? What it feels like? What the person that had the concussion is going through?
A concussion is very different from a muscle strain or a broken bone. An injury to a muscle/bone will typically heal in six-eight weeks and in the meantime full function remains for most everyday tasks. Meanwhile, someone who is experiencing a concussion will likely describe feeling foggy and under the influence of alcohol. At the same time, those around them may find it difficult to respond as they cannot see this ‘hidden injury’ (Roadmap, 2016) and may not know how to help. Here, we share some insight to help you increase your knowledge of concussions if you or those close to you find yourself suffering from one.
What is it?
A concussion is a jarring of the brain which can be caused by a blow to the head, a fall or whiplash during a motor vehicle accident. The impact can cause chemical changes in the brain which can sometimes cause unconsciousness.
If you or someone close to you hits their head it is important you see your family doctor and possibly a neuropsychologist who will perform a physical and cognitive assessment to determine the severity of the concussion. Imaging may be requested, typically an EEG, DTI or an fMRI of the brain to determine whether there is bruising or bleeding which may or may not be present with a concussion.
Every concussion is different, therefore the rate at which one recovers will depend on the specific case. Research shows that it can take anywhere from three to six months to recover with symptoms lingering on occasion for up to one year. It is important to rest for the first 10-14 days after a concussion as this is when patients are at the highest risk for a secondary concussion.
Recovery rate is dependent on a number of factors: previous level of activity, how soon you start rehabilitating the concussion and the steps you take to rehabilitate after the concussion. Through the appropriate treatment and exercises we can work together to reduce recovery time and promote full function.
Initially post-concussion you want to make sure you get enough rest. Avoid alcohol and/or taking other medications such as sleep medication, Aspirin, anti-inflammatories or painkillers without seeking medical advice. Some of the common symptoms experienced are outlined below (Guskiewicz, K., & Teel, E., 2015).
- Double vision
- Blurry vision
- Mood fluctuations
- Sleep disturbances, interrupted or difficulty falling asleep
- Light sensitivity
- Tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
- Motion sensitivity (dizziness with change in head movement, e.g. lying to sitting, sitting to standing)
- Short-term memory loss
- Long-term memory loss
- Information processing
- Executive function
- Change in sex drive
- Speech and language disruption
- Difficulty reading
- Difficulty writing
- Difficulty word finding
An individual experiencing a concussion may find simple tasks more challenging than usual. These activities include: reading a book, staying focused, remembering to pick up an item at the grocery store, sweeping, bending down, lifting objects or any other activities which take place over long durations or elevates one’s heart rate.
After experiencing a concussion, many individuals may be inclined to cease all activities that bring on uncomfortable symptoms, however, shying away from the activities can actually prolong your recovery. If you or someone you know can is experiencing the symptoms outlined above, we recommend consulting your health care practitioner regarding symptom management techniques. There are many strategies that can temporarily help during recovery.
Throughout the recovery process it is important that you listen to your body and mind. Some concussion sufferers may believe that ‘more is better’. However, a concussion is not the type of injury that requires this ‘more is more’ approach. In fact, if you don’t rehabilitate appropriately, it could take longer for you to recover. Here at PainPRO, our therapists use a concept called ‘pacing’ where we do a little activity in a controlled manner that brings on a symptom and then learn to actively rest for a short duration before attempting it again. We call this process ‘habituation’ (Leddy et al. 2013).
If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with a concussion, know that we are here to help you navigate the recovery process.
Guskiewicz, K., & Teel, E. (2015). Clinical Management of Sport-Related Concussion: Developing a Roadmap to a Successful Outcome. Kinesiology Review,4(2), 156-168. doi:10.1123/kr.2015-0010
Leddy, J. J., Cox, J. L., Baker, J. G., Wack, D. S., Pendergast, D. R., Zivadinov, R., & Willer, B. (2013). Exercise Treatment for Postconcussion Syndrome. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 28(4), 241-249. doi:10.1097/htr.0b013e31826da964