The Role of Physical Therapy After Concussion

It used to be thought that the only way to treat a concussion was with rest. But the science and study of traumatic brain injury have come a long way in recent years. In fact, we now know that in some cases, prolonged rest can worsen concussions.

The American Physical Therapy Association recognizes that “physical therapists are part of the multidisciplinary team of licensed health care providers that provides concussion management.” That role, the position states, includes “examination and evaluation to establish a diagnosis, treatment through an implementation of a plan of care, monitoring of progress, and making return-to-participation decisions by using best available evidence and standards of care.”

In other words, under the care of a licensed physical therapist (PT), movement and controlled activity can improve outcomes for patients recovering from concussions. Rest is still absolutely important as part of a concussion protocol, but at the right time, and in the right moderation under the care and supervision of a PT, physical activity is essential to recovery from a concussion.

Yes, There is Concussion Treatment with Physical Therapy

Concussions are treatable. With physical therapy. But, before we go into detail about PT treatment, let’s review the condition. A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that occurs either from a direct blow or jolt to the head or body. Symptoms of a concussion may occur immediately after the injury or there may be a delay. It is important to seek medical care if you suspect a concussion has occurred. Concussion symptoms must be resolved prior to returning to activities. Especially if the activities can potentially result in additional head impacts.

Concussion symptoms can include physical, cognitive, and/or emotional symptoms. Physical symptoms include a headache, dizziness, neck pain, difficulty with balance, fatigue, insomnia, nausea/vomiting, and light or noise sensitivity. Cognitive symptoms can include mental fogginess, difficulty concentrating, confusion, short- or long-term memory issues, and difficulty with comprehension. There are possible emotional symptoms that can present as well, such as increased irritability, anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

Post-concussive syndrome occurs when concussion symptoms are not resolving in a natural time frame following a concussion. If your symptoms are continuing several weeks to months after sustaining a concussion, you are likely experiencing post-concussive syndrome.

How Exactly Can Physical Therapy Help Concussions?

Physical therapy may be recommended if your symptoms do not resolve in a reasonable timeframe or if your doctor detects associated symptoms that can be improved by PT. After you are referred to a specialist, your doctor will examine your eye movements, balance, and neck mobility. They will need to know if you are experiencing regular headaches, dizziness, or neck pain. If you are, vestibular rehabilitation may be recommended. It is a practice to evaluate and treat your eye movement, head movement, and balance. Your therapist will also explore the possible causes of your headache. You may be prescribed neck and back stretching or strengthening exercises, and/or massage to do at home.

As your symptoms continue to improve, your PT will also assist you in returning to your normal daily activities and sports in a progressive and safe manner.

To learn more about how physical therapy fits into concussion protocols, set a concussion care appointment today.