“I didn’t know that there was Physical Therapy for that!” I hear a variation of this phrase from most patients and even some physicians when I tell them that I am a physical therapist specializing in concussions. Over the last several years, much research has gone into concussions and treatment options. We confidently say that physical therapy is often very effective at treating concussion symptoms. We have also learned that 70% of concussions heal spontaneously on their own within 20 days. That brings up the question: When should someone seek physical therapy for their concussion? Recent research indicates that despite most concussions healing on their own, there is a benefit to starting physical therapy quickly.
It is estimated that as many as 3,900,000 sports and activities-related concussions occur annually in the U.S. A concussion can occur from either a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth, either from a fall, a collision of players, or impact from the ground or other obstacles. Collision sports are at the highest risk for concussions, but any athletic activity remains a risk.
Gymnastics is considered a high risk sport for head and neck injuries. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that can occur from a direct or indirect force on the head. In gymnastics this can be the result of falling on the head, collision with equipment, collision with another athlete, or a fall where the head does not directly take the blow but a whiplash type movement occurs. In each of these scenarios, the brain moves rapidly inside the skull.
It is common for some things to be overwhelming and confusing after a concussion. Like any recovery, concussion rehabilitation is not linear, but full of peaks and valleys.
Throughout rehabilitation for a concussion, patients may experience new symptoms after a more prominent symptom has resolved. Some people might even have a hard time relating symptoms directly to their concussion. Fortunately, physical therapists trained in concussion management are able to recognize these signs and symptoms and guiding patients through rehab.
The Chicago Tribune recently reported that high school football participation in Illinois has reached a 26-year low. For the first time since 1993, fewer than 40,000 high school students in Illinois will be participating in football.1 Furthermore, the National Federation of State High School Associations states the number of high school students playing football has dropped 8 percent since 2007, more than any other sport. However, this is small compared to Illinois’ 25 percent drop in the same timeframe.1
Concussions have gotten a lot of attention in recent years, mostly negative attention. It is true that in an ideal world, no one would suffer a concussion. However, life happens. Concussions are thought of as only occurring with a blow to the head which, in reality, is only one way that they can happen.