Seeing stars: Warning signs of a concussion and steps to take after injury

With the winter sports season starting up, it’s a good time to talk about the risks and warning signs of a concussion. Winter sports like hockey, skiing and snowboarding can put athletes at risk for sustaining a traumatic brain injury. In fact, the likelihood of an athlete in a contact sport experiencing a concussion can be up to 19% per season. Even outdoor recreation like playing in the snow could lead to a head injury. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion can help you better manage your symptoms and prevent further, more serious injuries.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head. It can also be caused by any injury in which the head moves rapidly back and forth — for example, as a result of whiplash in a car accident. This type of rapid movement can cause your brain tissue to stretch, damaging brain cells. In turn, damaged brain cells can have a harder time functioning and communicating. While getting a concussion isn’t necessarily life threatening, the effects of a concussion can be life changing if not addressed quickly. 

What are some concussion early warning signs?

Whether you have a concussion is not always clear. Many times, concussion symptoms can be subtle, only appearing over time as headaches, confusion and memory loss. Symptoms can last for days or weeks. If you’re feeling any of the following symptoms after a hit to the head or body, getting examined by a physician is a good idea:

  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Excessive sleepiness. 
  • Fogginess. 
  • Visual problems.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Balance.
  • Sensitivity to noise.
  • Symptoms that get worse when focusing.

Recognizing some of these symptoms can help you report them to medical professionals who can then help you prevent and minimize worsening symptoms down the road. If you’ve noticed that your symptoms have already worsened, or that you have experienced vomiting and nausea, you should seek medical attention immediately. 

What can you do to minimize your risk of further injury?

There are many tests that screen for concussion so that you can catch it early. These tests can measure skills such as your reaction time and ability to concentrate. If you are found to have a concussion, you can quickly get started on a concussion management program that protects your brain from further injury.

Returning to a sport or work before symptoms are resolved should be avoided. Doing so can cause more damage or even another very serious injury. This kind of injury is called second impact syndrome, or repetitive head injury syndrome. Repeated concussions not only increase the risk of further concussion but have also been associated with early-onset dementia.

Making a gradual return to activities that may result in physical contact, such as sports, can help you re-acclimate your body to high-impact activities. A similar graduated return to classroom and work activities is also a good idea.

Education programs can help parents, athletes and coaches learn about concussion management so that they can prevent them from happening in the first place.

How can you treat early concussion symptoms?

Shortly after you sustain a concussion, your doctor may recommend that you be hospitalized overnight for observation after a concussion. This observation period is a protective measure to ensure that you have not sustained a serious traumatic brain injury such as internal bleeding.

In less serious cases, concussion symptoms often resolve on their own with rest and pain medication. However, while rest is often cited as an effective concussion treatment, recent studies suggest that rest alone can actually slow down the recovery process. Physical therapy can therefore be a major asset to the recovery process and can even help you return to regular activities faster. In fact, a study showed that physical therapy exercises can improve patients’ Post-Concussion Symptom Scale (PCSS) score. 

Physical therapists can use therapeutic techniques geared toward retraining your balance center to help you recover from a concussion. More specifically, treatments like vestibular therapy can address dizziness and body stabilization, as well as reduce your risk of falling due to imbalance. In addition, gait training exercises can help you regain a steady walking pattern.

Find help for a concussion at Back in Motion Physical Therapy

Concussions have been a big topic of conversation in the media lately. They also carry some fairly significant consequences if not well managed. Recognizing some of these early symptoms, managing the symptoms appropriately, and reporting symptoms to trainers and doctors are the best ways to prevent or minimize excessive head trauma and residual symptoms down the road. You can also find help for these symptoms from our Back in Motion Physical Therapy team. 

We offer free screenings that can help determine if your symptoms are being caused by a traumatic head injury. Our therapy specialists can also build you an individualized treatment plan intended to reduce your symptoms. We even offer services that you can use from home, including virtual care and at-home therapy

Contact us today for more information about our available physical therapy services or to schedule an initial appointment. 

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