Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that results from a bump, jolt or blow to the head which causes the brain to bounce or twist inside the skull. The brain movement stretches, and damages brain cells and leads to temporary chemical changes in the brain that disrupt nerve signals in the brain. These injuries cause the brain not to function normally for a period of time and result in concussion symptoms.
Concussion symptoms can vary from person to person. The most common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, balance problems, double or blurry vision, difficulty reading or looking at screens (TV, computer, phone), ringing in the ears, light and sound sensitivity, feeling tired, changes in sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep), difficulty concentrating or processing information, feeling foggy, depression or sadness, mood changes (irritable, nervous, anxious), and poor memory.
Concussion symptoms can appear within minutes of injury. However, some symptoms may take several hours or even days to develop.
A concussion is diagnosed by a thorough assessment that examines neurological function, function of the eyes and vestibular system, balance and coordination, and neck joints and muscles which support and move the head. Imaging such as CT scan or MRI isn’t always needed because the effects of a concussion are not seen on imaging, unless more serious injuries to the brain are suspected – like bleeding inside the skull, or brain swelling or if symptoms are worsening.
Treatment of concussion require a multi-pronged approach and include education regarding appropriate activities, pacing, work, school, or sport accommodations, treating of neck joints and muscles with manual therapy and exercises for strengthening, vestibular rehabilitation to decrease dizziness and to improve balance and coordination, exertion training to improve tolerance to activities, and vision exercises to improve eye function. Sometimes a referral to a neuro optometrist for a functional vision assessment and vision therapy is required.
The length of recovery from a concussion varies depending on severity in injury. Most concussions resolve in few days, but some will persist for weeks oven months.