Physical Therapy for Concussions: Your Guide to Treatment
March 13, 2023 by Brad Dexter, PT, DPT
Concussions are extremely common in America. 61,000 Americans died from traumatic brain injuries in 2019. That’s roughly seven deaths an hour.
Anyone can receive a concussion at any moment. But no one is helpless when one happens. Physical therapy for concussions can make a real difference in someone’s life.
But what exactly is a concussion? What kinds of therapy can a person receive? When should someone return to work, and what should they do once they make their return?
If you can answer these questions, you can be part of the solution after a brain injury. Here is your quick guide.
The Essentials of Concussions
The brain is not a stationary object. When a person’s head moves around, the brain can move with it. If the head moves in a sudden or extreme fashion, the brain can bounce or collide against the skull.
A concussion occurs when the brain moves in such a manner that brain cells are damaged. Many people know that concussions can occur during car accidents and collisions during sports games. But even a fall or being violently shaken can also result in one.
The symptoms of a concussion may not appear until a few days or weeks after the brain injury. They typically include headaches, pain, dizziness, and brain fog. Someone may think they have muscle strains or sleep deprivation.
Physical therapy for concussion is just one therapy that a person needs in the weeks and months following their injury. Concussion treatment requires tests to see how a person’s brain is healing. Additional therapies can include speech-language therapy our counseling if someone experiences cognitive challenges or anxiety or mood swings after their injury.
Most people make a complete recovery and suffer no complications. But some people experience post-concussion syndrome.
These individuals experience the symptoms of a concussion over many months, including cognitive impairments. This requires ongoing therapy for effective treatment.
Manual therapy involves stretching and manipulating soft tissue. It is a good option for anyone who suffers from limited mobility or experiences pain while moving.
During this therapy, a person will lie down on a table. A therapist will massage and move their muscles, skin, and nerves.
The key is to relieve tight muscles, as these apply pressure on nerves and joints. Once the muscles have relaxed, blood vessels can relax as well. Blood can flow through damaged areas and provide nutrients to cells, helping them grow and repair themselves.
Someone may experience relief from headaches and neck pain within one or two sessions. Neuromuscular therapy can hurt a little as it is being performed. But in the long run, it can help with pain relief and cognitive improvement.
When people think about physical therapy after a concussion, they often think about exercise. Exercise therapy is not just pedaling on an exercise bike.
Mild activity, like going for a brisk walk, increases the heart rate and encourages blood flow to the brain. It can also help a person regain mobility and balance after an accident.
Muscle strengthening can also help. It can restore function to damaged limbs and the neck.
The vestibular system helps an individual coordinate their body. It sends information to the brain about where a person’s body is and how it is moving. It is essential for balance, hand-eye coordination, and posture.
Balance exercises can help an individual feel more stable while standing or walking after a concussion. It is important that static and dynamic balance activities are incorporated into the therapy program.
In severe cases, vestibular therapy involves special maneuvers to address changes inside of the inner ear. This requires consultation from a specially trained vestibular therapist.
Many people do not realize that concussions can impair vision. Some people suffer from blurry vision for days after their injury. Other people cannot focus on objects or move their eyes to track moving ones.
Therapists can run a few tests on an individual to assess their vision to understand how they move their eyes, what colors they can see, and how far they can see.
It is important to know if vision deficits are present as they affect static and dynamic balance. If vision therapy is indicated, it is appropriate to be referred to a trained occupational therapist for this.
Return to Work
Physical therapy for concussion activities are intended to let a person return to work as soon as possible. But the therapy does not end once a person gets back in the office.
Frequently, performing minor exercises while at work helps to minimize pain and improve endurance throughout the day.
It is important to pace yourself when when increasing your activity level. An individual may not be able to assume all of their responsibilities right away. They should remain in touch with their therapist and track their improvement as time goes on.
The Basics of Physical Therapy for Concussions
Concussions occur when the brain cells become damaged. Physical therapy for concussions can restore physical function and mobility so someone makes a complete recovery.
Manual therapy and completing appropriate exercise routines can help a person regain flexibility, strength, and endurance. Vestibular therapy paired with vision rehabilitation (from an occupational therapist) is effective in addressing balance and vision issues.
A person can make a return to work once a therapist feels they are ready. But PT is long-term and continues until all symptoms have resolved.
Start your PT journey today. Kintinu Telerehab provides premium telerehabilitation services. Contact us today.