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Concussions are traumatic brain injuries that affect brain function. Effects from these injuries are often temporary but can include headaches, problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination. Concussions are usually caused by a blow to the head or violent shaking of the head and upper body. Some concussions cause loss of consciousness, but most do not. And it is possible to have a concussion and not realize it. Concussions are common in contact sports, such as football. However, most people gain a full recovery after a concussion.
Blurred eyesight or other vision problems, such as dilated or uneven pupils
Ringing in the ears
Nausea or vomiting
Delayed response to questions
Continued or persistent memory loss
Irritability and other personality changes
Sensitivity to light and noise
Mood swings, stress, anxiety or depression
Disorders of taste and smell
Rigidity and inflexibility
Lack of empathy
Lack of motivation or initiative
Depression or anxiety
Symptoms In Children
Concussions can present differently in children
Loss of appetite
Loss of interest in favorite toys or activities
Unsteadiness while standing
Memory loss and failure to form new memories
Inability to remember things that happened before the injury
Due to failure in recall
Inability to remember things that happened after the injury
Due to failure to formulate new memories
Even short memory losses can be predictive of outcome
Amnesia may be up to 4-10 times more predictive of symptoms and cognitive deficits following concussion than is LOC (less than 1 minute)
Return To Play Progression
Baseline: No Symptoms
As the baseline step of the Return to Play Progression, the athlete needs to have completed physical and cognitive rest and not be experiencing concussion symptoms for a minimum of 48 hours. Keep in mind, the younger the athlete, the more conservative the treatment.
Step 1: Light Aerobic Activity
The Goal: Only to increase an athlete’s heart rate.
The Time: 5 to 10 minutes.
The Activities: Exercise bike, walking, or light jogging.
Absolutely no weight lifting, jumping or hard running.
Step 2: Moderate activity
The Goal: Limited body and head movement.
The Time: Reduced from typical routine.
The Activities: Moderate jogging, brief running, moderate-intensity stationary biking, and moderate-intensity weightlifting
Step 3: Heavy, non-contact activity
The Goal: More intense but non-contact
The Time: Close to typical routine
The Activities: Running, high-intensity stationary biking, the player’s regular weightlifting routine, and non- contact sport-specific drills. This stage may add some cognitive component to practice in addition to the aerobic and movement components introduced in Steps 1 and 2.
Step 4: Practice & full contact
The Goal: Reintegrate in full contact practice.
Step 5: Competition
The Goal: Return to competition.
After head trauma microglial cells are primed and can become over active
To combat this, you must mediate the inflammation cascade
Prevent repeated head trauma
Due to priming of the foam cells, response to follow-up trauma may be far more severe and damaging
What Is Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS)?
Symptoms following head trauma or mild traumatic brain injury, that can last weeks, months or years after injury
Symptoms persist longer than expected after initial concussion
More common in women and persons of advanced age who suffer head trauma
Severity of PCS often does not correlate to severity of head injury
Loss of concentration and memory
Ringing in the ears
Noise and light sensitivity
Rarely, decreases in taste and smell
Concussion Associated Risk Factors
Early symptoms of headache after injury
Mental changes such as amnesia or fogginess
Prior history of headaches
Evaluation Of PCS
PCS is a diagnosis of exclusion
If patient presents with symptoms after head injury, and other possible causes have been ruled out => PCS
Use appropriate testing and imaging studies to rule out other causes of symptoms
Headaches In PCS
Often “tension” type headache
Treat as you would for tension headache
Improve stress coping skills
MSK treatment of the cervical and thoracic regions
Adrenal supportive/adaptogenic herbs
Can be migraine, especially in people who had pre-existing migraine conditions prior to injury
Reduce inflammatory load
Consider management with supplements and or medications
Reduce light and sound exposure if there is sensitivity
Dizziness In PCS
After head trauma, always assess for BPPV, as this is the most common type of vertigo after trauma
Dix-Hallpike maneuver to diagnose
Epley’s maneuver for treatment
Light & Sound Sensitivity
Hypersensitivity to light and sound is common in PCS and typically exacerbates other symptoms such as headache and anxiety
Management of excess mesencephalon stimulation is crucial in such cases
Other light blocking glasses
Cotton in ears
Treatment Of PCS
Manage each symptom individually as you otherwise would
Manage CNS inflammation
Fish oil/Omega-3s – (***after r/o bleed)
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Mindfulness & relaxation training
Brain balancing physical therapy exercises
Refer for psychological evaluation/treatment
Refer to mTBI specialist
mTBI is difficult to treat and is an entire specialty both in the allopathic and complementary medicine
Primary objective is to recognize and refer for appropriate care
Pursue training in mTBI or plan to refer to TBI specialists
“A Head for the Future.” DVBIC, 4 Apr. 2017, dvbic.dcoe.mil/aheadforthefuture.
Alexander G. Reeves, A. & Swenson, R. Disorders of the Nervous System. Dartmouth, 2004.
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