Managing Concussion Symptoms: Essential Information and Advice

On July 4, 2024

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that can occur after a blow to the head or a violent acceleration of the body. Concussions can have serious consequences if not properly managed, so understanding the symptoms and treatment options is crucial. This guide will provide detailed information on what a concussion is, the common symptoms, and how to treat and manage concussions.

Understanding Concussions

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce or twist in the skull, leading to chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.

Common causes of concussions include:

  • Falls: The most common cause of concussions, particularly in older adults and young children. Falls from ladders, slipping on ice, or stumbling over objects can lead to significant head injuries.
  • Sports Injuries: Contact sports like football, soccer, hockey, and rugby have a high risk of concussions. Even non-contact sports like gymnastics or cycling can result in concussions from falls or collisions.
  • Vehicle Accidents: Sudden stops or crashes can lead to head injuries. Motor vehicle accidents, including car, motorcycle, and bicycle crashes, frequently result in concussions due to the forceful impact.

Symptoms Associated With a Concussion

Recognizing the signs of a concussion is essential for seeking timely treatment. Common symptoms include:

  • Headache or Pressure in the Head: This is often the most common symptom. It can range from a mild, dull ache to intense, throbbing pain.
  • Nausea or Vomiting: Feeling sick to the stomach or actual vomiting can occur shortly after the injury. 
  • Balance Problems or Dizziness: Difficulty maintaining balance, feeling lightheaded, or experiencing vertigo can indicate a concussion. These symptoms may result from the brain’s impaired ability to process spatial orientation.
  • Double or Blurred Vision: Changes in vision, such as seeing double, blurred vision, or sensitivity to light and noise, can occur. This indicates that the visual processing centers of the brain are affected.
  • Confusion or Feeling Sluggish: Trouble thinking clearly, processing information, or feeling in a mental fog. This can manifest as difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering recent events.
  • Memory Loss: Forgetting the events leading up to or immediately following the injury. This amnesia is typically retrograde (loss of pre-injury memories) or anterograde (inability to form new memories).
  • Loss of Consciousness: Brief loss of consciousness can occur but is not always present. Even without losing consciousness, a person can still have a concussion.

If you experience any of these symptoms after a head injury, it’s crucial to seek professional help promptly.

How Long After Hitting the Head Do Concussion Symptoms Start?

Concussion symptoms can start immediately after the injury or may be delayed for several hours or even days. The variability in symptom onset can make it challenging to evaluate concussions right away. Immediate symptoms can occur right at the moment of impact or shortly after. Delayed symptoms, on the other hand, are often subtle and can be overlooked if not closely monitored.

Delayed Symptoms of a Concussion

Delayed symptoms of a concussion can develop hours to days after the initial injury. These symptoms can be subtle and might include:

  • Persistent Headaches: Ongoing or worsening headaches.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing excessive sleepiness during the day. These changes can disrupt normal sleep patterns and lead to fatigue.
  • Mood Changes: Increased irritability, anxiety, depression, or mood swings. Emotional instability can be a direct result of the brain injury or a response to dealing with the other symptoms.
  • Cognitive Difficulties: Problems with concentration, memory, or thinking clearly. This can affect daily activities, work performance, and academic achievements.
  • Sensitivity to Light and Noise: Heightened sensitivity to bright lights and loud sounds. This can lead to discomfort in environments that were previously tolerable.
  • Fatigue: Persistent tiredness and lack of energy. This can be due to the body’s effort to heal and the brain’s reduced capacity to handle normal activities.

How Long Can a Concussion Last?

The duration of a concussion can vary significantly from person to person. Most people feel better from a concussion within 7 to 10 days, with full brain recovery taking up to 42 days. However, some individuals may experience symptoms for weeks, months, or even longer. The length of time it takes to recover depends on several factors, including intensity of symptoms following the injury, the individual’s overall health, and whether they follow appropriate recovery guidelines. It is crucial to follow professional advice and allow the brain ample time to heal to avoid prolonged recovery times.

What to Expect From Concussion Treatment

Treating concussions involves a comprehensive and personalized approach to address the specific needs of each individual. Here’s what effective concussion treatment should entail:

  • Immediate Relative Rest: Initial treatment for a concussion is physical and mental rest. This means reducing activities that require concentration and physical exertion. Reducing activities allows the brain to restore energy and prevents symptoms from worsening.  Complete rest is not currently recommended, so the specific dosage of relative rest is something to discuss with the care provider.
  • Initial Assessment: Treatment should start with a comprehensive initial assessment to evaluate your condition accurately. This includes a series of assessments and tests to identify the main symptom drivers. 
  • Exercise Therapy: Many individuals experience exercise intolerance due to dysregulation of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and brain blood flow. After a short period of relative rest and symptom-limited activity, your healthcare provider will introduce guided exercise therapy. This approach has been shown to safely and gradually improve blood flow and accelerate recovery. The exercise regimen is carefully monitored and adjusted based on your response.
  • Manual Therapy: Headaches, dizziness, balance issues, and visual disturbances can be symptoms of both concussions and associated neck injuries. Manual therapy techniques can address these symptoms by improving neck function and reducing pain. This includes integrated manual therapy with or without vestibular rehabilitation, focusing on alleviating muscle tension and improving joint mobility.
  • Vestibular Rehabilitation & Vision Therapy: Visual disturbances and dizziness are common post-concussion symptoms. Vestibular rehabilitation and vision therapy programs aim to reduce these symptoms through targeted exercises and therapies. These programs help improve visual tracking, reduce dizziness, and enhance overall vestibular function.

The Role of Sleep and Rest in Concussion Recovery

Relative rest is a crucial part of the concussion recovery process. Sleep allows the brain to heal and recover from the injury. 

In the past, it was common to wake someone with a concussion every few hours to check for worsening symptoms. However, current guidelines suggest that if the individual has been evaluated by a healthcare professional and there are no signs of severe brain injury, it is safe to let them sleep. 

Failing to return to normal sleep after a concussion can have serious consequences. Without adequate sleep, symptoms can worsen, and the recovery period may be prolonged. Moreover, returning to high-risk activities without proper recovery can increase the risk of a second concussion, which can be more severe and have longer-lasting effects. Therefore, it is essential to follow professional advice and allow ample time for rest and recovery after a concussion.

Your Partner in Concussion Recovery

Understanding the symptoms and treatment options for concussions is vital for ensuring proper care and recovery. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a concussion or have recently sustained a head injury, let Expert Physio help. 

Our experienced healthcare professionals in Burnaby are dedicated to providing personalized care and helping you achieve optimal health and recovery. Contact us today to start your journey toward lasting concussion recovery.

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