How Do I Recover From a Concussion?
Disclaimer: if you’ve fallen or sustained a head injury, please seek medical care right away. This is not meant to diagnose or treat a concussion, but to give information about how concussions may be treated.
Rest can be the most critical factor in concussion recovery. Any physical or mental activities that reproduce or worsen symptoms should be avoided. This often means that school, work, and social and recreational activities must be put on hold for a period of time. When this cannot be accomplished, the risk of residual or permanent effects increases and the recovery timeline is extended. In most cases, I will see a full recovery within 3 months in those I am treating. When appropriate rest cannot be arranged, a 6 month recovery timeline should be expected.
Cognitive rest essentially means avoiding unnecessary sensory stimulation. Concussions result in altered brain chemistry which limits the ability for brain to function globally. While in this state, the brain is vulnerable to re-injury and over-stimulation. It is vital that the brain be allowed to rest during this phase of recovery. We’ve listed some of the most common sources of cognitive over-stimulating activities and exposures below.
- Computer work
- Playing video games
- Television viewing
- Reading or writing
- Studying or homework
- Mental calculations
- Taking a test or completing significant projects
- Loud music
- Bright lights
- Busy places
During recovery, any mental or physical activities that produce or worsen symptoms should be avoided. The common symptoms of over-doing-it include fatigue, irritability, headaches, blurred vision, balance problems, word-finding problems, and dizziness. If any of these signs and symptoms occur, the activity should be discontinued immediately. Initially, a patient with a concussion may not be able to attend to work, school, or recreational activities or may need to rest for many periods during the day.
Physical rest includes getting adequate sleep, taking frequent rest periods or naps, and avoiding physical activity that requires exertion. Your brain will be using every bit of available energy to heal. Using energy on physical activities basically steals energy from the healing process. We’ve listed some basic physical activity restrictions below. Remember that these restrictions are temporary and are meant to facilitate a rapid, full recovery.
- Activities that result in contact and collision and are high risk for re-injury
- High speed and/or intense exercise and/or sports
- Any activity that results in an increased heart rate or increased head pressure (e.g. straining or strength training)
Nutrition and Brain Food
The brain requires certain nutrients, or ingredients, to function properly. Concussion disrupts the ability of the brain to manufacture, maintain, and deliver these nutrients to the needed areas for function and repair. To make matters much worse, the average American’s diet is wholly inappropriate for concussion recovery. A major part of our concussion treatment plan is to reorganize the patient’s diet to facilitate concussion recovery.
In concussion treatment, extreme caution must be exercised to avoid overstimulation of the patient’s brain. We’re challenged with proper fuel delivery to the neurons due to the chemical disruptions. This deficiency in oxygen and glucose leads to an increase potential of brain fatigue during treatment.
One of the most common suggestions I give to other providers, especially chiropractors, when working together on concussion cases, is that “less can be more.” In other words, a more effective and efficient response will be seen with our patients if we recognize and respect the fatigue threshold in our patients and diligently strive to work within its bounds. Functional neurologists are specifically trained to recognize brain-based fatigue, offering a safe means of rehabilitation to our concussed patients.
Home Exercises to Synchronize Brain Activity
The work that has been done in the doctor’s office will soon be translated into homework exercises for the patient. Homework is an extremely valuable component of our concussion treatment plan. The brain responds to stimulation differently than muscles do. When we want to increase the strength and efficiency of a muscle, we normally exercise that muscle by pushing to complete fatigue. When we want to increase the strength of neurons, we push only to the initial point of fatigue. By engaging in frequent exercises at home, we can respect this fatigue threshold while offering enough stimulation to rehabilitate the brain.