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How physical therapy can help treat Post-Concussion Syndrome

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Concussions are becoming increasingly common for people who play sports with physical contact. While typical recovery from a concussion can take from a few hours up to a few weeks, sometimes symptoms may last longer than normal. Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is when typical concussion-related symptoms last for weeks, months or occasionally a year after a concussion. PCS is also possible when someone has been in a car accident or fallen and hit their head.

Symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision/blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Headaches, pressure in the head
  • Neck pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sensitivity to light and/or noise
  • Feeling in a fog/not feeling “right”
  • Fatigue, low energy, depression, anxiety
  • Change in irritability, more emotional or change in personality

Females and young people are at a higher risk for PCS, as are those who have already experienced three or more concussions. Other risk factors are preexisting conditions such as migraines or learning disabilities.

If the symptoms of the concussion do not resolve in the usual time frame anticipated, a health care provider may make a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome. After diagnosis, PCS patients may be referred to a physical therapist to assist with recovery.

After a concussion, the brain often has difficulty interpreting information from the inner ear (the vestibular system), which is one of the major organs that maintain our balance and spatial orientation. If this system is not working correctly, a person may experience dizziness, double or abnormal vision in addition to nausea and vomiting. In these instances, a physical therapist trained in treating PCS works with the patient to improve vestibular function.

Aside from issues of balance, there is research that shows the blood flow to the brain is decreased after a concussion. Using a specific, graded exercise protocol, a physical therapist can help to determine the best starting point for exercise and a specific program to increase the blood flow to the brain, which promotes brain healing and full recovery.

Many patients with PCS experience neck pain and/or headaches. When someone’s head moves quickly and impacts another surface, muscles in the neck are often overstretched or stressed and this causes muscular neck pain. Physical therapy can help to heal the neck muscles and improve neck pain and headaches.

With the right care, PCS is highly treatable! If you or someone you know has experienced a concussion or if symptoms of post-concussion syndrome are present, please contact your health care provider for examination and possible diagnosis for PCS.

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