What happens after I get a concussion? What tests do I need? How do I know when it is safe to return to normal activity? These are common questions to have after you experience a concussion. The real answer is you need to get tested before you get a concussion.
Concussions are the result of when there is a blow or jolt to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly back and forth inside the skull, or even hit the skull from the inside. This will cause stretching and damaging of the brain cells that will result in chemical changes within the brain. When the brain cells and chemical signaling in the brain is disrupted, it is extremely unsafe to return to normal activity too soon.
When we look at testing for concussions, there are two ways we can evaluate you. The first is called “normative” values. These are results from tests performed on many individuals that are your age, gender, and sometimes your height that we can use to compare you to when we don’t have a baseline test. Normative values are good to help predict if you had a concussion, and whether you are improving from the resulting side effects. However, there is one problem…they are not you!
The second type of concussion testing is testing you against your baseline – actual tests performed prior to a concussion to establish what your ‘normal’ level of functioning is. These are the best way to test because we know exactly what you were like before the injury, so we can predict where you should be and more precisely know when to return you to play or work.
So what do we measure to establish a baseline?
There are five things we look at when doing concussion testing. The first is your cognition, or your ability to think. These are memory tests that allow us to see how you are thinking and processing information. Often after a concussion, this can be a challenge and make it difficult to concentrate.
The second thing we measure is your eye stability – the technical term is ocular motility. Interestingly, your eyes are a window into your brain and how it balances itself. We can do very specific tests on your eyes to see if you had a concussion and to help with treatments and outcomes and return you to sport or work.
The third component we measure is your balance when you are standing and when walking or moving. We use specialized force plates that can measure your sway in standing – in the FYZICAL centers we call it Center or Pressure (COP) sway. We can not only measure it precisely to the thousandth of a degree to make sure your balance is improving with therapy, but also to compare to your baseline scores to make sure we return you to the field with the same balance as you had before.
The fourth measurement we look at is your endurance and ability to tolerate an increased heart rate without making your symptoms worse. We use treadmills and slowly increase the intensity of walking and even jogging and running to make sure the increase in the activity does not make your symptoms worse.
Lastly, we measure your actual concussion symptoms themselves – we call it the Concussion Symptom Scale. One of the most common symptoms after a concussion is dizziness. Dizziness can be many things including lightheadedness, wooziness, fogginess, imbalance, and even a spinning sensation like vertigo. This test breaks down all the symptoms you can have with a concussion and puts a number to it. We do the test while establishing a baseline because sometimes you may have headaches or other issues not related to a concussion. We want to make sure you can return to your baseline Concussion Symptoms.
So that is it – this is how we do it when it comes to concussion testing. At FYZICAL, we have the knowledge and specialized training to help you recover from concussion and get you back to feeling good as soon as possible!
If you or a loved one has experienced a head injury or concussion and have questions about recovery, we WANT to talk to you! Through FYZICAL First, you can submit a form and we will be in touch within 24 hours to schedule a free assessment with a Doctor of Physical Therapy!