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Managing Concussions Through Vestibular Therapy

Can Vestibular Therapy Help Manage Concussions 

An estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million people in the United States sustain a concussion during sports and recreational activities each year. These numbers, may in fact, be underestimated as many concussion cases are likely never reported. If you think you’ve suffered a head injury, a physical therapist can help to determine if you have a concussion and can help to treat your injury by guiding you through a safe and effective concussion recovery program utilizing vestibular therapy.  

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that affects the function of your brain. A concussion is usually caused by a blow to the head that often occurs in contact sports such as football and hockey. However, motor vehicle accidents as well as abruptly jerking your head and upper body can also result in a concussion. The effects of a concussion are usually temporary and most people recover fully; however, they can interfere with co-ordination, balance, concentration, and memory. While some concussions result in a loss of consciousness, most do not, and in some cases you might not even realize that you have suffered one.

The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be hard to identify because they may be subtle and may not show up immediately after an injury. Symptoms of a concussion can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, and in some cases, even longer. Common symptoms of a concussion include headache, memory loss, and confusion. Other signs and symptoms that may occur shortly after a head injury include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, fatigue, slurred speech, delayed processing and response to questioning, and a dazed appearance.

Delayed symptoms may include concentration issues, personality changes including irritability, noise and light sensitivity, taste and smell disorders, sleep disturbances, as well as psychological issues including depression. Longer-term symptoms may include loss of libido, loss of menses, weight gain, low blood pressure, muscle spasticity and weakness, chronic headaches and dizziness, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Signs and symptoms in young children (infants and toddlers) may be difficult to identify because young children can’t describe what they feel. After a head injury pay attention to their behavior, signs and symptoms may include: appearing dazed, fatigue, irritability, balance issues, excessive crying, lack of interest in their favorite toys, as well as changes in sleeping or eating patterns. 

While most concussion symptoms subside on their own, in some cases, you may experience symptoms for a longer than expected amount of time. Some individuals experience post-concussion syndrome, which is a term that is used to describe symptoms such as dizziness and headaches that persist for weeks or months following the injury. Second-impact syndrome is a serious complication of concussion and occurs when an individual who has experienced a concussion, experiences another concussion. In these cases, permanent brain damage, or even death may occur. These conditions should be assessed and treated by a physical therapist.

How is the Vestibular System Affected?

Trauma to your brain can result in abnormal functioning of the vestibular system. As a result the brain can receive inaccurate signals about the positioning and movement of your head in relation to space. When vestibular signals are inaccurate, the brain typically relies on visual input in order to stabilize your head on your body. Relying on visual stimuli as the primary source for balance control often results in fatigue, eye strain, tension headaches, and difficulty performing daily activities. Failure of your brain to effectively compensate for inaccurate vestibular information by using visual cues can lead to dizziness and balance issues.

Physical Therapy & Vestibular Therapy 

After suffering a concussion, an assessment by a physical therapist, is warranted. They will take a history of the injury and assess vestibular function, including an evaluation of balance activities that involve the use of the vestibular, proprioceptive and visual systems. This will reveal how your brain is interpreting the movement of your body and head relative to space. The physical therapist will also perform an examination of your neck to determine if you have a sprain that may be contributing to the concussion symptoms. 

After the assessment, your physical therapist at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation may recommend vestibular therapy to help manage your concussion symptoms. Vestibular therapy is an exercise-based program that is design to reduce dizziness, gaze instability, and imbalance. The goal of vestibular therapy is to use a problem-oriented approach to encourage compensation, which is achieved through customizing exercises to each patient’s needs.

If you think you have suffered a concussion, a consultation with a physical therapist at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation, will help to determine if you have indeed suffered one. The physical therapist can then identify any vestibular issues that you have and develop a program that is suitable for your condition and help you on your way toward recovery.