With post-concussion syndrome, patients who suffer a mild traumatic brain injury experience persistent symptoms related to their injury. These symptoms last for months, sometimes years, without treatment.
Fortunately, there are many post-concussion syndrome treatments available that can relieve your symptoms.
In this article, you will learn some of the best ways to manage post-concussion syndrome. We’ll also discuss some of the causes and symptoms of this condition.
Causes of Post-Concussion Syndrome
The primary cause behind post-concussion syndrome is decreased neurovascular coupling. This refers to the connection between your neurons and blood vessels.
In a healthy brain, the blood vessels deliver oxygen and other nutrients directly to activated brain regions. This gives neurons the energy they need to function efficiently. For example, when you read, the brain will send additional blood to the visual cortex.
After a concussion, however, the immune system triggers inflammation near the site of the damage. This causes a breakdown in the blood vessels and other neural structures.
As a result, the neurons cannot get enough oxygen to power certain cognitive functions. This leads to many of the symptoms associated with concussion, such as cognitive fatigue.
For most people, inflammation will reduce after a few weeks, and normal neurovascular coupling will return. However, with post-concussion syndrome, the brain never regains normal coupling. This explains why the symptoms can persist for so long.
Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome
Most concussion symptoms will fade after about three to four weeks. If the symptoms persist for more than a month, you most likely have developed post-concussion syndrome.
No two post-concussive patients will experience identical symptoms. In general though, here are some of the most common symptoms that you should watch out for:
- Headaches and migraines
- Ringing in the ears
- Loss of taste or smell (anosmia)
- Neck pain
- Light and noise sensitivity
- Dizziness and trouble balancing
- Difficulty concentrating or reading
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Memory problems
Post-concussion syndrome typically occurs when a person has had multiple head injuries. However, it is possible to develop it after only one concussion.
Now that you understand the causes and symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, it is time to look at the different ways you can treat it.
Treating Post-Concussion Syndrome
Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” post-concussion syndrome treatment. Instead, the key to treating the syndrome is to focus on the symptoms.
The following are a few therapies that address some of the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.
1. Vestibular Therapy
Vestibular rehabilitation therapy can help treat balance issues caused by post-concussion syndrome. These exercises involve specialized head movements with the goal of stimulating and retraining the vestibular system.
Customized vestibular therapy has proved more effective than generic exercises in treating dizziness and balance issues. The following 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 backward, then turn from left to right. Do 10 times.
- While standing, throw a ball from one hand to the other above eye level.
Do not worry if you feel dizzy while doing any of these exercises. However, if the dizziness gets too overwhelming, stop immediately and rest.
2. Gaze Stabilization Exercises
Gaze stabilization exercises can treat vision problems associated with post-concussion syndrome. Therapists use these exercises to help improve your ability to focus on a stationary object while you move.
Some gaze stabilization exercises include:
- Look straight ahead and focus on a letter without moving
- Turn your head side to side, while keeping your eyes focused on the target letter
- Hold a pencil arm’s length away from your face. Focus on the tip, then slowly bring the pencil towards your nose, maintaining focus on the tip the entire time.
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.
4. Exertion Therapy
Another great treatment for post-concussion syndrome is exertion therapy. This uses gentle, aerobic exercise to promote recovery.
Aerobic exercise is crucial for treating concussion symptoms because it increases cerebral blood flow, bringing vital nutrients to your brain. This will improve neurovascular coupling and boost your brain’s efficiency.
Some of the best aerobic exercises for post-concussive patients include aquatic therapy and yoga. Just be careful not to accidentally exhaust yourself. While you will want to slowly increase your endurance, don’t continue if it causes too much pain.
If you can only do five minutes at first, that is fine. You can work your way up from there.
4. Cognitive Therapy
Cognitive therapy challenges your memory and concentration skills to increase function. By practicing these exercises repetitively, you can activate neuroplasticity, and rebuild the neural pathways you might have lost.
Some cognitive rehab exercises your therapist might have you try include:
- Sorting cards according to different categories
- Solve logic puzzles
- Name a type of fruit for every letter of the alphabet
The best therapists to help you with cognitive therapy are speech therapists. Speech and language involve memory, concentration, and executive functions, and speech therapists are trained to improve those skills.
Therefore, even if you do not have any speech difficulties, you should still work with a speech therapist. They can teach you how to improve your cognitive functions.
5. Manual Neck Therapy
If you have suffered a concussion, then you most likely have strained to your neck as well. This condition is otherwise known as whiplash.
Interestingly, the effects of whiplash can mimic the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. It can even cause cognitive problems.
In fact, one study found no difference in cognitive deficits between people with whiplash and those with a TBI. Both groups had identical problems with attention, memory, and visual-spatial function.
Therefore, if no other treatment seems to work for you, it might be worth seeing a massage therapist. They can rule out whiplash and other neck issues that may be exacerbating.
Final Thoughts on Post-Concussion Syndrome Treatment
Post-concussion syndrome can be a frustrating ordeal. You may feel like these symptoms will last forever. But you should not despair.
The treatments covered in this article should help you begin to recover. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new treatment, especially if your symptoms have been steadily declining.
Still, most cases of post-concussion syndrome will resolve over time. With the right interventions, you can maximize your recovery and start to feel like your old self again.