The game plan for treating concussions

Concussions are often in the headlines, especially during football season. Brain injuries are a risk of high-impact sports, which prompted the National Football League to develop a concussion protocol in which players suspected of having a concussion are immediately removed from the field for a neurological examination.

But concussions aren’t limited to athletes. According to a recent NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll, nearly one-fourth of Americans report that they have suffered a concussion.

In the poll, 49 percent of people who have had a concussion say they had only one. But 35 percent reported two or three concussions.

Philadelphia Eagles kicker Jake Elliott suffered a concussion while making a tackle. But so could an 80-year-old grandmother who falls down the stairs and hits her head, or an 8-year-old who falls in the playground.

Concussions can be serious injuries. A common complaint after suffering a concussion is having difficulty multitasking. A teen might face challenges in managing time and processing information when she goes back to school. A parent may no longer be able to talk on the phone while unloading the dishwasher.

Christiana Care’s Rehabilitation Services Department takes a team approach to concussion management. The team works closely with the referring doctor and each other to ensure that the patient’s issues are addressed appropriately and that we are meeting the patient’s goals.

Treating concussions requires a detailed, individualized plan that we develop based on our own assessments and the patient’s goals. The severity of a concussion, as well as the number of concussions a person has experienced, help determine the type of therapy he or she will require and the length of treatment. The plan may include:

  • Physical therapy for gait, balance and movement issues.
  • Occupational therapy to help patients relearn the tasks they use in everyday life, both at home and at their jobs.
  • Speech therapy, which helps patients who are having trouble thinking, speaking clearly or remembering things.
  • Audiology services for patients who have persistent ringing in their ears, dizziness or hearing problems.
  • Psychological counseling for people with depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances or other issues related to their concussions.

Once we have an individualized plan, our team gets to work.

Therapists work with the patient by doing a variety of exercises, both physical and mental, to improve function. They also suggest things a patient can do at home to make tasks easier and reduce the risk of falls, such as removing throw rugs and reducing clutter in the home.

Some concussions can get better in a week or two, and headaches and dizziness resolve on their own. Others, especially for people who have had previous concussions, may require treatment for a longer period.

Regardless of the length of treatment, we are committed to helping patients improve balance, gait, speech and cognitive ability and get back to enjoying their daily lives. As therapists, we partner with each other and with patients to make their lives as healthy and productive as possible.