Even relatively mild injuries to the brain have the unfortunate potential to be painful and slow-healing. People develop concussion damage many different ways, but all involve some blunt force trauma to the head. The resulting issues and side effects can severely limit your activities, and possibly interfere with your everyday life. While only time can heal a concussion, physical therapy can help you manage and treat the unpleasant side effects.
Why Concussions Are So Serious
A concussion is a type of mild brain injury. A sudden smack on the head from a blunt object, falling, or colliding with something or someone causes your brain to bash back and forth against the inside of your skull. Since your brain is made of soft, squishy tissue, this can cause a lot of damage.
The brain is an extremely sensitive tool. Any change in the position or health of the cells in brain tissue can dramatically alter how your brain is able to process information, and even function. A concussion causes some mild stretching and compression in these sensitive tissues—but even a mild injury is enough to scramble and challenge many of your physical and mental functions until you heal.
Persistent headaches, dizziness, confusion about your surroundings, and nausea are all common symptoms shortly after a concussion. Some people may temporarily lose consciousness and struggle with memory loss as well. Over time, other symptoms typically appear and disrupt your daily activities. Dizziness, loss of balance, fatigue, slowed reactions, trouble concentrating, and sensitivity to light and sound are all common and make life and mobility difficult. Some people develop depression, irritability, anxiety, and other mental health issues as well.
The Path to Concussion Recovery
Recovering from concussions takes time, and depends on how serious the original injury was. There are actually three “grades” of concussion damage. A grade one is a minor head condition. You never lose consciousness and symptoms of confusion or trouble understanding largely clear up in about 15 minutes. A grade two concussion is more serious. You don’t lose consciousness, but you have temporary memory problems and lots of trouble focusing that lasts longer than 15 minutes. A grade three injury is the most severe. You do lose consciousness for a short amount of time, and have significant trouble with ordinary mental and physical functions.
Whether you had a grade one or a grade three injury, you’ll have to stop all strenuous activities to allow your brain to heal. Immediately after the damage to your head, you’ll need emergency care to make sure you don’t have severe trauma, like bleeding in the brain. After that, your path to recovery involves “powering down.” Too much mental or physical activity as the brain heals itself can actually impair your recovery process. This will mean resting a lot and avoiding activities that could shake your head or exacerbate your symptoms.
How Physical Therapy Can Help You
This doesn’t mean you’re on bed rest, of course. However, you may still need help managing your symptoms and accommodating your concussion side effects, which is where physical therapy comes into play. Trouble balancing and dizziness, headaches, muscle control, and coordination can all be improved with physical therapy. Experts like Dr. Jennifer Molner can help you establish routines and exercises to re-train your balance and improve your coordination. This can help improve your gait and mobility. Massages, stretches, and strengthening practices in your neck and shoulders can alleviate some headache pain. If you’re an athlete, physical therapy will also help you recondition yourself to handle your return to sports after a head injury.
Exactly what physical therapy you’ll need to help you manage and treat your concussion side effects will depend on your unique circumstances. Our teams at Castle Pines Physical Therapy and Cherry Creek Physical Therapy in Denver, CO will be happy to help you figure out exactly what you need to improve balance and other symptoms. Make an appointment at either of our offices online, or contact us by phone at (303) 805-5156.