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Concussions: What Happens After Impact?

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The American Academy of Neurology defines a concussion as “a condition resulting from the stunning, damaging or shattering effects of a hard blow to the head.” The public may define this serious head injury as something cringe-worthy to watch. Even though protective gear is state-of-the-art, concussions are still a big problem, especially among young athletes. Sports- and recreation-related concussions total a whopping 3.8 million a year. Do you know what happens after initial impact?

Signs and symptoms

After a head trauma, if someone exhibits signs of headache, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, difficulty concentrating or other marked changes in behavior, it’s best to have an evaluation and possibly seek care from a licensed neurologist. The American Academy of Neurology created a handy app called Concussion Quick Check — available for both Apple and Android phones — that allows you to easily assess someone’s condition. If all data points to a concussion, seek care, even if it seems like a mild injury.

Passive rehab

You may not know what rehabbing a concussion looks like because the initial injury feels like the bulk of the ordeal. After any type of head trauma, however, rehab may take a long time, and rest is the most crucial element. Rest, in the form of sleep as well as both cognitive and physical rest, is how a brain heals itself. If a normally active person suffers a concussion that requires a lot more rest than they are used to, they may also suffer emotionally or mentally from the prescribed lack of activity. In such cases, watch for signs of anxiety or depression and seek help if needed.

Active rehab

Apart from the more passive rehab of rest, active rehab may also be used, especially if the patient is an athlete. Active rehab can additionally help those individuals who benefit emotionally and mentally from movement and activity. Once a patient has rested enough to get back to baseline as far as cognitive function and balance go, then they may be cleared to enter into the first phase of active rehab: light aerobic activity. This includes walking, swimming, and stationary biking. By getting blood flow to the brain and working the cardiovascular system, this method also helps to heal the injury and boost the immune system.

Once the patient has mastered basic aerobic activity, they can begin sports-related activity as long as there is no head impact. This doesn’t mean they’re ready for a quick pickup game, though. For athletes, this means working through noncontact sports and resistance training as well as sports drills, followed by unrestricted training and then, ultimately, clearance to go back to playing their sport.

Multiples

Concussions are a tricky subject because the patient or athlete may have a history of head trauma, making it likely that they will repeat the same injury. These repeat concussions can be extremely dangerous and can lead to long-lasting trauma or permanent brain damage. Sometimes, a patient will experience postconcussion syndrome (a mild form of brain trauma that lasts weeks to a year), sleep disfunction and even migraines well after healing their initial injury. For this reason, it is very important to bear in mind that head protection must be taken seriously.

If you are with someone who experiences a head injury (or the parent of a young athlete), be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of a concussion. Even if you’re unsure or the trauma seems mild, it’s best to seek an evaluation. Rehabbing from a concussion is a long process that requires dedication and patience. In order to invest in the long-term health of the brain, it is best to allow for full healing before jumping back into any type of sport or recreational activity! Remember that the professionals at Hancock Neurology and Neurodiagnostics are here to help with any brain-related trauma.

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