Getting the right physical therapy treatment is essential to a safe recovery from concussion. This holistic, drug-free approach helps to decrease symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

Immediate rest is the first step, but a physical therapist can help develop safe guidelines for returning to school, work, and sports activities as you heal.

Strengthening

Often, when people are diagnosed with concussion, they are told to rest. That’s because concussions create a temporary energy deficiency in the brain. Resting will allow the body to conserve energy to allow the brain to heal.

But it’s now believed that avoiding physical activity after a concussion is counterproductive and prolongs recovery time. Some studies suggest that light exercise within 48 hours of a concussion is safe and may even help reduce symptoms.

The best way to return to exercise after a concussion is with the guidance of a trained physical therapist. Researchers have recently developed a specialized form of exercise — blood flow restriction therapy — that may improve recovery time and reduce symptoms.

This type of therapy involves a cuff or band being placed around the limb, which partially restricts blood flow. That causes the muscles to work harder, improving strength and endurance. Research suggests it also helps reduce swelling and pain.

Flexibility

In addition to balance and movement exercises, physical therapists may provide aerobic exercise (like walking or running on a treadmill), which improves overall health and can help reduce symptoms. Studies show that aerobic exercise also helps restore communication between two parts of the autonomic nervous system, often disrupted after concussion.

Flexibility is the ability of joints and muscle groups to move through a pain-free range of motion. Tight muscles limit flexibility, and stretching exercises are the best way to loosen them. Stretches can be done with the help of goniometers, devices that measure joint angles using a meter stick attached to a flexible arm.

Vision problems like dizziness and blurry vision occur when the vestibular and visual systems don’t exchange information correctly. Physical therapy at wellness centers like Integrated Brain Centers helps to retrain these systems, and it is especially effective when patients can attend sessions early on in the recovery process, within a few days of injury.

Physical Therapy

Posture

The vestibular system, which controls balance and knowledge of your body’s position in space (proprioception), can also be impacted by concussion. Physical therapy can improve this system using manual and exercise treatments.

Many people with a head injury report neck pain and dysfunction. The muscles, ligaments, and nerves in the neck (cervical spine) and upper back (thoracic spine) support the head. The force of a blow to the head can cause whiplash, which can impact these structures.

PTs trained in cervical spine injuries can help with manual treatment and therapeutic exercises to manage neck pain and dysfunction after concussion. They can also teach clients posture training to prevent further injury to the neck and brain.

Motor Skills

Many people with concussion experience dizziness, balance problems, or trouble tracking moving objects. Physical therapists can help patients build strength and movement skills to improve these areas.

Medical science still does not fully understand what causes some individuals to develop post-concussion syndrome, but PT can reduce the symptoms associated with it. PT involves controlled movement and physical manipulations to relieve pain, promote healing, improve flexibility, and prevent future injuries.

PT techniques include manual therapy, e-stim (electrical stimulation), and hot or cold treatments.

Sometimes, a physical therapist may use a blood flow restriction technique that wraps a cuff around a limb to restrict oxygen and blood flow during exercise partially. This increases muscle growth and speeds recovery time.

PT also tests exertion tolerance to determine when a patient can return to normal activities. This test uses a computerized treadmill and measures heart rate, breathing, and brain function. The therapist can then customize an activity guide for the patient.

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