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Rehab Insights is a weekly blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. Its goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

Treating Concussions Means More than Getting Rest

April 27, 2018

It wasn’t very long ago that treating concussions meant sitting down and resting up until your symptoms subsided. Thanks to advances in research, we now know this isn’t the case. Proper treatment of a concussion requires a lot more than a comfortable seat on the couch. We sat down with Michelle Clark, PT, DPT, Clinic Supervisor at Burke’s Purchase Outpatient Clinic to discuss Burke’s Concussion Management Program and how it’s changing the way we care for brain injuries.

What can patients expect when they seek help from Burke’s Outpatient Concussion Program?

Once a patient’s doctor has diagnosed them with a concussion and given them a prescription, we bring them in for an evaluation. Once the evaluation is complete we begin to coordinate care with a team of several medical professionals: physicians, physical therapists, neuro-optometrists, neuropsychologists, speech therapists and occupational therapists.

The patient is then given a folder that tells them the next steps and what to expect in his or her recovery. Then we get them scheduled for specific therapy.

How has the perception and treatment of concussions changed over the years?

Emerging research really helped change the way we manage concussions. The focus on management used to be “cocoon” therapy, essentially resting until your symptoms resolved. We now know that is not the best way to treat concussions. We want to get these patients into physical therapy as soon as possible and start them with a light exercise program, which has been shown to improve recovery. We have learned that waiting longer for therapy can have a negative impact on a patient’s outcomes.

What is the biggest challenge you see in treating concussions?

One of the biggest challenges is keeping the patient on track with their therapy. A lot of times a patient might feel better and think it is okay to go out and play a game of basketball, but really they need more time before they can get back to that level of activity.

Another difficulty is getting the message out there of how important receiving therapy really is when a patient’s symptoms are persisting beyond a few weeks. The younger population—especially those participating in sports at a competitive level—do not want to sit out. They want to be out on the field and may be inclined to not tell anyone about a potential head injury. It is important that they know some symptoms of concussion can be life-long if they are not properly treated.

What are some common indicators that a person may have had a concussion?

Some of the most common symptoms include: headache, dizziness, light and noise sensitivity, visual changes, memory loss, a feeling of fogginess, neck pain or even jaw pain.

Are there ways to prevent concussions?

Engaging in contact sports means putting yourself at risk for concussions, however, I don’t think that means we must take our kids out of sports. There are no concussion proof helmets or equipment. We have to look at all the benefits that an organized sport provides when making decisions about what is right for each athlete.

We also have to keep in mind that you do not have to be an athlete to have a concussion. A lot of our patients are just everyday folks who bump their head.

Overall, I think that the most important thing is being aware of what to look for if you do experience a hit to the head or body. Parents, coaches and educators need to have a good understanding of signs and symptoms of a concussion so it is managed appropriately and does not get worse. While there has been a lot of hype in the media recently regarding the detrimental impact of a concussion, it is very treatable. The key is recognizing symptoms and beginning therapy as soon as possible.

What sets Burke’s Outpatient Concussion Program apart?

Our therapists. They have a true understanding of this diagnosis and what goes into treating these patients. It takes a team to be successful and we are all aware of that here at Burke. Our team follows the most current research, has specialized training and has frequent meetings to ensure we are all on the same page. We are constantly striving to do better and I think that passion is what sets us apart.

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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