With professional athletes going public with their concussion experiences, there has been extensive study into sports-related concussions over the past decade. Considered a mild traumatic brain injury, concussions are still of concern due to the potential for long-lasting emotional and behavioural effects. Concussions can occur at all levels of sports participation, but can also affect anyone with a head injury. Here is an overview of how concussions affect your body and what you can expect for your overall health and wellness.
What is a Concussion?
Concussions are defined as a mild brain injury caused by mechanical force. This means the injury can result from a direct blow not only to the head, but also the face, neck and other areas of the body. A concussion can cause symptoms that are usually short-lived and can affect your ability to function both physically and mentally. Symptoms can appear immediately but can also take hours to present themselves. This is one of the reasons it is important to keep watch on someone who receives an injury that can lead to a concussion.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of a Concussion
Concussions can be difficult to diagnose because (a) they do not always appear immediately and (b) they can occur even though there was not an obvious head injury. Also, symptoms tend to become more obvious a day or two later, long after you’ve left the hospital or doctor’s office. That means symptoms might not even be noticed.
- The most common symptoms of a concussion include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering new information
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Balance problems
- Blurry vision
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Difficulty falling asleep
Studies show that 80 to 90 percent of concussions will be resolved within seven to 10 days. This period can vary and tends to be longer for children and teens. Because concussions cause physical, mental and emotional issues, you should take a “multidisciplinary” management approach to treatment. In layman’s terms, this means you need a team of caregivers to make sure you are okay. This usually includes your doctor, family members and physical therapists or trainers who can watch for symptoms and provide support.
The most important aspect of treatment is rest and reduced physical and mental activity. The key is to avoid re-injury, especially for athletes. Because there is a strong emotional element to your recovery, it is important to avoid stress as well. This can be a challenge because being forced to rest can make you antsy and start worrying about the team, school or work. Some doctors believe the rest period should last only one week in order to avoid worsening the stress that can add to your psychological symptoms. After the first week, you can ease into a less strenuous work and school schedule.
Concussion treatment requires a strong support team to watch for symptoms that can indicate you are not fully recovered, such as stress and sleep disturbance. Your support team must understand how concussions can affect your overall wellness and behaviour and avoid negative reaction to what might appear as undesirable behaviour. Instead, understanding is key for recovery from a concussion. As well, a support team can help determine if your symptoms are worsening, or have returned after your recovery period.
- As part of your concussion treatment, your rest time dos and don’ts should include:
- Do limit activities that require intense mental focus
- Don’t do more than one thing at a time
- Do avoid physically demanding activities, including athletics
- Don’t drink alcoholic beverages
- Don’t use a computer
- Don’t play video games
- Don’t drive, ride a bike or operate heavy machinery
- Do take notes to help while your memory is a little fuzzy
Although the physical symptoms tend to resolve themselves eventually, it is the emotional issues that can be the most long-lasting when you have a concussion. This is one of the reasons that the treatment and management of concussions has been so difficult in the past. It’s up to the patient to report their symptoms, but you might not realize sadness and behavioural challenges are symptoms that you are not fully recovered from your concussion. You might choose to suffer in silence with emotional stress-related issues out of embarrassment or because you do not recognize they are symptoms.
Watch for mood swings, depressed mood, or increasing anxiety or panic symptoms as this can be a sign you require further treatment. Speaking to your doctor and letting your physical therapist and family members know you are experiencing these feelings is important as they can help to monitor symptoms and ensure the proper treatment and management is provided.
Many of the emotional issues you face can be caused by the after effects of concussion and the impact it might have on your life. This can include feeling left out when you are unable to attend practices and trigger feelings of physical, cognitive or emotional vulnerability, which can affect your identity and self-esteem and create fears that you won’t meet your goals or miss out on your plans.
Understanding this element of your injury can help in your recovery. In the past, a lack of knowledge meant the proper treatment was not prescribed. Today, we understand the mental and emotional impact of the injury, allowing for the proper referral to licensed health care providers or counselling to help you manage emotional challenges.
Post Concussion Syndrome
- Post-concussion syndrome is diagnosed when you have at least three of the following symptoms:
- Trouble concentrating and performing mental tasks
- Memory issues
- Inability to cope with stress
- Increased emotional excitement
- Intolerance to alcohol or changed behaviour when drinking alcohol
- Depression or anxiety
- Loss of self-esteem
- Fear of permanent issues that build your anxiety and stress
Your Symptom Checklist
Due to the emotional issues caused by concussions, it is advised that you use a checklist to watch for symptoms and be certain not to minimize them.
Your post-concussion symptom checklist includes:
- Attention and concentration difficulties
- Slowed processing
- Memory problems
- Slowed visual tracking or vision problems
- Balance disturbance
- Anxiety or depressed mood
Having a concussion can be more challenging than other sports injuries due to the emotional and psychological elements. However, a better understanding of these symptoms means there is help available for the best possible results for a full recovery.
For more information on concussion treatment, request an appointment here or give us a call at (416) 234-8788.