How Can a Concussion Be Treated?

Concussions are one of the most serious risks facing young athletes. More than 1.8 million sports-related concussions are estimated to occur each year in the United States, and 65% of all sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, like concussions, occur in young athletes between 5 and 18-years-old.

A concussion is defined as an immediate traumatic brain injury temporarily affecting the brain’s normal functioning. They can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to jerk suddenly.

“A concussion is an extremely complicated injury,” explains Nathan Holmes, MD, a board certified family practice and sports medicine specialist at Advanced Orthopaedic Centers, explains. “It’s basically a neurometabolic injury to the brain that occurs when a forces travels through the brain and forces a chemical disruption that the brain uses a lot of energy to try and correct.”

When a person has sustained a concussion, Dr. Holmes says they normally exhibit a subset of predictable symptoms. These symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Low energy levels
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Light or noise sensitivity
  • Loss or alteration consciousness

Beyond physical manifestations, Dr. Holmes says concussion patients may undergo some personality changes.

“Anxiety, depression, dizziness…there’s a whole list of different symptoms and each concussion presents with a different, select subgroup,” he explains.

Concussion Treatment and Recovery

“One of the biggest myths about concussion treatment is that you should wake people up every few hours after they’ve had a head injury,” Dr. Holmes says. “The most important thing you can do for someone who has sustained a head injury is to take them to see a specialist who is trained to treat them and to make sure nothing worse is going on.”

The sleeping myth can actually work against patients, explains Dr. Holmes. “If we’re certain nothing else is going on, such as bleeding in the brain, then the number one treatment in the acute stage of a concussion is actually rest. Continually waking someone up when they need rest can actually do more harm than good.”

Treating a concussion can be very different case by case, however all treatment begins with cognitive testing and rest. In an office setting, Dr. Holmes says physicians track a certain set of physical symptoms.

“We check how their eyes are tracking, their sense of balance, their reaction time and coordination…these issues are typical for someone with a head injury,” he says.

Developing an individualized treatment plan helps ensure each patient is getting exactly what they need to make a full and safe recovery.

“Treatments are very individualized and can include physical therapy, balance training, ocular tracking, or restriction from school and activities that can aggravate the injury,” he explains. “However, in some cases exposure to certain exercises are part of the prescription for rehabilitation. It really depends on the patient and the nature of the concussion.”

As far as recovery goes, the optimal timeline depends on the patient, the extent of the injury, and history of previous concussions. Most healthy athletes, however, can expect to see a significant improvement in their symptoms within seven to 30 days of their injury. Even cases of uncomplicated concussion require rest and limited physical activity. A physician can help determine when patients can be cleared to return to their sport.

Physicians play an integral role in explaining the proper management of the injury and can prescribe any treatments needed to control or help improve symptoms. The concussion specialists at Advanced Orthopaedic Centers use state-of-the-art computerized neurocognitive assessment tools to make sure patients are truly ready before issuing a medical clearance for safe return to play.

It is important for patients to avoid making treatment determinations on their own when it comes to concussions. The extent of the injury may not be apparent, and an improperly treated concussion can lead to long-term problems like chronic difficulty with concentration, memory, headache or keeping balance.

Patients need individualized care plans to help them recover as quickly and as safely as possible.