Post Concussion

The passing of July 4 for many signals the passing of the mid-point of summer and the upcoming school year.  For parents and student-athletes it is a sign that the fall sports season is about to erupt into a sea of practices and games.  For those of us in North America that fall sports season means football and soccer. Knowing that both sports comprise the vast majority of the high school age concussions it is time for a reminder of what concussions are and a review of some of the new treatment options that are developing.

Lets review the symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS), which develops shortly after sustaining a concussion and generally occurs in 10% of athletes and 33% of non-athletes (Lagos, L., Thompson, J., & Vaschillo, E., 2013).

  1. Headache – often compared to a tension or migraine headache in severity
  2. Dizziness or blurry vision
  3. Fatigue – beyond what would normally be expected from activity
  4. Irritability or changes in mood
  5. Insomnia or unusual sleep disturbances
  6. Concentration difficulty – even on tasks that were previously achievable
  7. Memory Impairment – particularly short-term memory

For a diagnosis of PCS you only have to have three of these symptoms, which generally occur for 7-10 days after the event but can last for months or even years.  Furthermore, 50% of all persons diagnosed with PCS experience related psychological symptoms, which include anxiety, depression, memory loss, and others.

Simply put a concussion is a BRAIN INJURY.  Unlike injuries that occur to other parts of the body that have known healing times the brain is a dynamic mechanism and the effects of a concussion can last varying lengths of time.  Furthermore, repeated concussions (particularly if the previous event has not fully healed) makes it even more likely that PCS symptoms will occur.  While there has been a great deal of media attention on professional athletes and concussions, treatment options remain limited but are improving.

Lets look at the most common treatment options.

  1. Rest – the brain has to have time to heal
  2. Biofeedback and/or Heart Rate Variability training
  3. Neurofeedback
  4. Psychological Interventions – including medications and therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  5. Light Exercise – new research is proving that this may be beneficial
  6. Time – the healing time for concussions is unique to each individual

Hopefully, this article gives you some insight into Post Concussion Syndrome including the symptoms and treatment options.  If you or a loved one has suffered a concussion (by the way you don’t have to lose consciousness to be concussed) the first step is getting a proper diagnosis by a medical doctor.  Secondly, discuss your treatment options with your physician and understand that usually the best course of action is rest, but do not be afraid to enlist the help of other professions (neurology, psychology, physical therapy, etc.) in the treatment.  Remember, this is a BRAIN INJURY it takes time to heal, there is help out there for you but you have to take the initiative to seek it out and you do not have to suffer silently.

If you or a loved one has suffered a concussion and is experiencing Post-Concussion Syndrome and the associated symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc. and it is affecting your ability to return to competition it is time to take action and contact a sport psychologist.