If you suffered a minor head injury that caused a concussion, and are still experiencing some of the lingering effects, you may have a condition called post-concussion syndrome.
Post-concussion syndrome is one of the possible effects of traumatic brain injury. The good news is there are many post-concussion syndrome treatments available out there, most of them involving changes in diet and exercise.
In this article, you will learn some of the best ways to manage post-concussion syndrome. We will also look at a new therapy called vestibular therapy, which shows a lot of promise for treating concussion symptoms.
But before we can do all that, we need to know what some of the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome are and how to diagnose it.
Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome
Post-concussion syndrome is the prolonged presence of concussion symptoms after a mild traumatic brain injury.
It can be difficult to diagnose because it often manifests itself in different ways, and no two patients will have the exact same symptoms.
In general though, here are some of the most common symptoms that you should watch out for:
- Headaches and migraines
- Light and noise sensitivity
- Dizziness and trouble balancing
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Memory loss or difficulty remembering new things
All of these are common side effects of a concussion and can be expected within the first few days or weeks after an injury. If these symptoms persist for more than three months however, then you most likely have post-concussion syndrome.
So now that we know the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, it is time to look at the different ways you can treat it.
Treating Post-Concussion Syndrome
Because there is no central cause behind the condition, there unfortunately is no such thing as a “one size fits all” post-concussion syndrome treatment. Instead, the key to treating post-concussion syndrome is to focus on the symptoms.
Your brain possesses an amazing ability to heal itself through a process called neuroplasticity. And the cool thing is, you can actually help trigger that process through specified, repetitive exercise!
This means a big part of treating post-concussion syndrome involves engaging neuroplasticity to help your brain heal.
So, for example, if you have experienced dizziness or balance issues after your concussion, you will want to be doing therapy exercises that can help treat those issues.
The following treatments are a few therapies that engage neuroplasticity to address some of the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.
1. Vestibular Therapy
Vestibular rehabilitation therapy can be used to help treat some balancing issues that are common in post-concussion syndrome. Vestibular exercises involve specialized head movements with the goal of stimulating and retraining the vestibular system. (i.e. the system that controls your balance)
Customized vestibular therapy has been shown to be more effective than generic exercises in treating dizziness and balance issues. While it is best to tailor exercises to fit your specific needs, here are a few sample exercises you can try:
(Note: Please make sure you are in a safe environment before starting any of these exercises)
- While sitting or lying on your bed, move eyes up and down, then left and right. Do this 10 times.
- Bend neck forward and backwards, then turn from left to right. Do 10 times.
- While standing, throw a ball from one hand to the other above eye level.
It is ok if you feel dizzy while doing any of these exercises, but if the dizziness gets to be too much, stop immediately and rest.
2. Gaze Stabilization Exercises
Gaze stabilization exercises can help with vision problems associated with post-concussion syndrome. Therapists use these exercises to help improve vision and the ability to focus on a stationary object while moving.
Some gaze stabilization exercises include:
- Looking straight ahead and focusing on a letter without moving
- Turning your head side to side, while keeping your eyes focused on the target letter
Make sure you are seated while doing these exercises. Do them for whatever length of time possible without bringing on too severe of symptoms. The goal is to gradually build up to one minute of exercise without experiencing dizziness.
With both of these therapies, it is highly recommended you do not perform them alone, so as to reduce the risk of fall and injury. The best scenario is to do them under the supervision of a trained therapist.
More Ways to Treat Post-Concussive Syndrome
Not everyone with post-concussion syndrome will have balance or vision issues. Here are some other, more general ways treating post-concussion syndrome:
3. Get Plenty of Rest
Sleep should be one of your top priorities when recovering from a concussion, because it allows your brain to recover from stress and consolidate new memories and information.
Many people are under the impression that sleeping after a concussion is dangerous, but this is actually a myth. As long as a person’s eyes are not dilated and they have already had a CT scan to rule out brain bleed, there is no reason not to let them sleep.
Sometimes insomnia is a problem for individuals with post-concussion syndrome. If this is the case for you, ask your doctor about taking melatonin supplements. Melatonin can help reset your brain’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that tells your body when to sleep.
Exercising regularly, especially aerobic exercise, is crucial for recovery because it increases blood flow to the brain, bringing vital nutrients to your brain. Exercise also activates neuroplasticity, which as we mentioned earlier, will help you restore lost function.
5. Eat Healthy
A good brain injury diet is critical for giving your brain the nutrients and calories it needs to heal and function properly. Make sure the food you consume is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, because that will stimulate your brain’s production of new nerve cells and boost your recovery.
Some foods that are great for your brain are:
- fatty fish such as salmon and trout
6. Manual Neck Therapy
If you have suffered a concussion, then you more than likely also suffered a sprain or strain to your neck as well, otherwise known as whiplash.
But did you know that the symptoms and signs of whiplash are the same as a concussion? It’s true! Headache, dizziness, nausea, and even cognitive problems have all been shown to occur in neck injury patients.
In fact, one study compared whiplash patients with mild traumatic brain injury patients and found no difference in cognitive deficits between the two groups. Both groups had the same problems with attention, memory and visual-spatial function.
Most people don’t know this, and just assume that their symptoms are stemming from their concussion. But if your symptoms have not subsided after several months, it is possible the problem is in your neck, even if you do not have neck pain!
Whiplash’s effects can last for months, even years, if left untreated. Luckily, it can also be easily remedied with massage therapy and manual manipulation.
If nothing else seems to be working for you, it might be worth seeing a professional massage therapist to rule out whiplash and other neck issues which could be unknowingly causing you problems.
Final Thoughts on Post-Concussion Syndrome Treatment
Post-concussion syndrome can be a frightening ordeal. You may feel like you will be stuck with these symptoms forever. But you should not worry.
The treatments covered in this article should help you begin to recover, but the best advice we can give is to talk to your doctor, especially if your symptoms have been steadily declining.
If your concussion symptoms are consistently severe enough that they are preventing you from functioning, then you should see a specialist immediately.
Still, most cases of post-concussion syndrome will resolve over time, and with the right interventions and treatments, you can maximize your chances of full recovery and start to feel like your old self again.