By Dr. Abby Long
When an athlete gets injured, it can be the scariest thing in the world. It can rock an athlete emotionally and physically. It can even scare teammates, coaches, and parents. But, there are some things that coaches and athletes can do to help an athlete who they believe has a concussion. A teammate may shows the signs of a concussion if he gets hit hard in a game or falls down and hits his head. If that happens, it’s so important for coaches and players to recognize the signs so that the athlete can get help from a doctor as soon as possible. A concussion is definitely not an injury that should be taken lightly. The earlier the athlete gets treated for his head injury, the better.
Signs of a Concussion
There are a variety of symptoms that indicate someone may have a concussion. Signs of a concussion include:
- Difficulty concentrating or feeling, “foggy”
- Slow reaction time
- Difficulty handling bright lights or loud sounds
- Irritability and anger
As a chiropractor, I am trained to look at the bones and muscles and connect those structures with the brain and nerves. An injury to a bone or a muscle can affect the brain and vice versa. A concussion rattles the brain and leads to bruising around the skull. When I see a patient who has had a concussion, the base of his neck is swollen and his neck is tender. I then check his balance and gait, or the way he walks, to see if he has difficulty standing on one leg. I also look for how the concussion has affected his ability to play his sport.
For example, a hockey player skates on one leg at a time during a game. If he is unable to stand on one leg for at least a minute, it is easy to see how he may fall. When we aren’t able to balance, we often fall or twist an ankle or injure a knee. Balance is the job of the brain and balance is often thrown off following a concussion. The cervical spine is commonly injured when someone falls or hits their head. The joints and muscles in the neck can be a big source of pain for someone with a head injury. This is why I also look at the neck during an exam.
Treatment for a Concussion
So what do I as a chiropractor do for an athlete who has had a concussion? Chiropractors are trained to help any athlete who has been injured. A concussion is something that we can help with. I will take x-rays of the cervical spine to get a clear picture of what the bones and joints themselves look like. This helps me rule out any broken bones and tells me where the patient needs to be adjusted. I start off with therapies such as ultrasound, heat, and electrical stimulation of the muscles to help the swelling go down. I also like to incorporate manual therapy where I stretch or lightly massage the muscles. This also decreases swelling and helps the muscles heal. Specific chiropractic adjustments are part of the treatment plan. Adjustments remove nerve interference and allow the muscles to heal. Adjustments significantly decrease pain and help restore proper motion to the joints affected by the injury.
A concussion rehabilitation program is another way that I can help patients who have had a concussion. The rehabilitation program consists of light aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening, and balance activities. The goals of the program are to restore balance, improve blood flow to the brain so that it can heal, and strengthen muscles that are involved in specific sports activities. For a hockey player, our program focuses on underhand movements that are involved in carrying a stick or shooting a puck. I also incorporate single leg squats and lunges to strengthen the hips and legs. This program can also help people who are not athletes. It can be adapted to incorporate strengthening and balance activities that mimic movements that the person does on a daily basis.
If you or someone you know may have suffered from a concussion, it is very important that you are seen by a physician. Please seek medical attention for your safety. To request an appointment and discuss a possible concussion with a doctor at Loehr Chiro, please call 417-887-8075 or click here.