Concussion Awareness & Management

Published December 14, 2017

By Katie DuFrene, DPT

"Concussion" is a buzz word in almost any medical atmosphere, and has been for several years now. And it’s understandable - because the implications of one are scary. Sports like football and soccer are just a few areas where rates of concussions continue to rise. 

Here are some tips that current research suggests may help to get you or your child back on the field sooner:

Start by taking an ImPACT test, which is the gold standard to get a baseline measurement of your brain function. This can be taken online or you can get one at a neurologist's or neurosurgeon's office. Aside from the test, there are many signs and symptoms to be aware of, including but not limited to: headache, fatigue, nausea and/or vomiting, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), change in sleep, change in mood, photophobia (pain with bright lights). Loss of consciousness does not always occur, but if it does it is automatically diagnosed as a concussion.

If you do in fact have a concussion, the most important thing to do is rest. Our brain is used for so many daily functions, and the more you can shut down and relax, the more your brain can do the same. An important feature within this is limiting screen time to a total of 2 hours total per day. That includes television, computers, cell phones, projectors, video games, etc. 

Many times, this may require a note to relieve you from work or school as it is hard to avoid these. If you could basically lay or sleep in a cool dark room, that would be to most ideal setting for your brain to relax and recoup.

When your symptoms have resolved (some research suggests this means 72 hours - one week of being completely symptom-free; other research requires four weeks), you can begin to think about returning to your usual activities. 

Most people will require some sort of part time and/or partial duty.  For the athletes this may entail returning to conditioning, but not to full contact. If these activities do not induce symptoms, then you can gradually increase to full play/full activity. Some people require another ImPACT test to confirm cognitive function is full, and others may require physical therapy for vestibular (balance) rehab, gradual increased exertion exercises, etc. 

As always, if you are unsure, it is imperative you see a health care practitioner right away as returning too soon can lead to much more serious implications.

Katie DuFrene, DPT, practices at the Mid-Maryland Muskuloskeletal Institute care center in Urbana, Maryland. She holds a dual Doctorate of Physical Therapy and Masters in Athletic Training from Shenandoah University and has special expertise in sports medicine, with an interest in gymnastics, and in general orthopedics, with emphasis on the shoulder, knee and ankle.