Concussions and Physical Therapy

Young athletes and members of the military are among those who suffer concussions at abnormally high rates, prompting a national discussion of the brain injury and corresponding effects.

But what exactly is a concussion and how can physical therapists be a part of the treatment team.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury that occurs when the brain is shaken inside of the skull. The shakeup causes changes in the brain’s chemistry and energy supply, usually from a direct blow to the head or an indirect blow such as whiplash.iStock_000015504497Medium

Concussion injury rates

The most common concussions are sports-related, with nearly 3.8 million people a year suffering from the injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly one out of five of the U.S. military personnel who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suffered concussions from blasts or other events not related to blasts, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Neurology.

A 2012 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that the highest rate of concussions for high school athletes is for football players at 11.2 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures. For girls in high school, gymnastics with seven concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures, and soccer with 6.7 per 10,000 athletic exposures were the sports with the highest rates of concussions, according to USA Today.

Lacrosse had nearly seven concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures, according to the NAS. Girls basketball players suffered concussions at a rate of 5.6 for every athletic exposure, double the rate for boys, according to the NAS.

Concussion recovery

The NAS reports that young athletes can recover from a concussion within two weeks of the injury. But in 10 to 20 percent of the cases, the concussion symptoms persist for some weeks, months, or even years.

Treating concussions

Treating a concussion for the young athlete involves removal from play, caring for the injury appropriately in both the acute stage and during the recovery process and returning to play only when he or she has recovered demonstrably and is no longer having any symptoms, according to the NAS.

An individualized treatment plan that includes physical and mental rest may be beneficial for recovery from a concussion, but current research doesn’t indicate a standard or universal level and duration of rest needed.

“Athletes who return to play before their brain has fully healed may place themselves at increased risk for prolonged recovery or more serious consequences if they sustain a second brain injury,” the NAS reports.

With the increased awareness of concussions has come a push for developing standards of treatment.

Concussions and physical therapy

The American Physical Therapy Association’s Board of Directors has stated that concussions should be evaluated and managed by a multi-disciplinary team of licensed health care professionals, including physical therapists.

Treating Concussions with Physical TherapyWhether the concussion victim is a young athlete, military personnel or regular patient, physical therapists can design a treatment plan for the individual condition.

Athletes should not be allowed to resume practice or competition until they receive a written clearance from a health care professional who is trained in concussion management, according to the APTA.

A treatment plan from a physical therapist for athletes, military personnel or others who suffer concussions includes an examination for neck problems to reduce headaches while helping improve balance and curtailing dizziness.

As concussion symptoms improve, a physical therapist will help a patient resume physical activity when it’s appropriate and over a gradual period. This method will help prevent overloading the brain and nervous system that have been damaged by the concussion.

Ultimately, rest is the most appropriate way to allow the brain to recover from a concussion, according to the Mayo Clinic. Rest includes avoiding physical exertion and also limiting activities that require thinking and mental concentration to include playing video games, watching TV, schoolwork, reading, texting or using a computer.

Shorter workdays or school days and frequent breaks may also be in order. For headaches, use a pain reliever such as acetaminophen and avoid ibuprofen and aspirin because they could increase the risk of bleeding, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Find a Physical Therapist

Many of the physical therapists at Tidewater Physical Therapy Inc. hold Direct Access Certification through the Virginia Board of Physical Therapy allowing them to evaluate and treat patients without a prescription. As part of your healthcare team, a physical therapist will make an assessment of your condition and create a plan to start you on the road to wellness. Our team will communicate with your physician of record and obtain a referral, if necessary, for your continued treatment. We will also work with your insurance carrier to make sure services are covered by your plan. To make your appointment, find a clinic near you.