Concussion signs and symptoms
There are many symptoms related to concussion, and they can affect your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Physical symptoms may include:
- Difficulty with balance
- Difficulty with sleeping
- Double or blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light and sound
Cognitive (thinking) symptoms may include:
- Difficulty with short-term or long-term memory
- Slowed “processing” (for instance, a decreased ability to think through problems)
- Difficulty with concentration
Emotional symptoms may include:
- Mood swings
- Decreased tolerance of stress
How is a concussion diagnosed?
Concussion is easy to miss because diagnostic imaging, such as such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan, usually is normal.
Because of the variety of possible symptoms that can interfere with day-to-day activity, seek coordinated medical care immediately. Your health care professionals may include a physician with expertise in concussion, a neuropsychologist, and a vestibular physical therapist (a physical therapist who specializes in treating balance disorders and dizziness).
After a concussion, limit any kind of exertion. The brain won’t have time to heal if you increase physical exertion too soon—such as returning to social activities or sports—or if you increase cognitive demands too soon, such as returning to school or work. You can slowly resume normal activities only once your symptoms have improved and stay improved.
How can a physical therapist help?
Physical therapists can evaluate and treat many problems related to concussion. Because no two concussions are the same, the physical therapist’s examination is essential to assess your individual symptoms and limitations. The physical therapist then designs a treatment program.
Help stop dizziness and improve balance
If you have dizziness or difficulty with your balance following a concussion, vestibular physical therapy may help. The vestibular system, which includes the inner ear and its connections with the brain, is responsible for sensing head movement, keeping your eyes focused when you move your head, and helping you keep your balance. A qualified vestibular physical therapist can provide specific exercises and training to reduce or stop dizziness and improve balance and stability.
Your physical therapist will examine you for neck problems following a concussion. Neck injuries can cause headaches and contribute to some forms of dizziness. Your therapist also can assess your back for possible injuries to your spine.
As symptoms due to concussion improve, your physical therapist will help you resume physical activity gradually, to avoid overloading the brain and nervous system that have been compromised by concussion.
It’s important that you follow the recommendations of all health care professionals so that you can achieve the greatest amount of recovery in the shortest amount of time.
What kind of physical therapist do I need?
All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat a variety of conditions or injuries. You may want to consider:
- A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with neurological problems. Some physical therapists have a practice with a neurological or vestibular rehabilitation focus.
- A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in neurologic physical therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.
General tips when you’re looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):
- Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.
- When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists’ experience in helping people with concussion.
- During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.