How Long Does It Take To Recover From A Concussion?
Concussions are a type of traumatic injury to the brain. Depending on the severity of the injury, it can take days, weeks, or even months to recover. A concussion disrupts brain function which can impact physical and cognitive health and cause symptoms like dizziness, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, and more. These symptoms can be distressing for patients, particularly if they continue to persist.
Physiotherapy plays a pivotal role in helping patients recover from concussion. Keep reading to understand more about concussions, the common symptoms to watch out for, and the stages in the journey to recovery. For more information, reach out to Revive Spine and Sport Physiotherapy in Edmonton.
The Mechanisms Of A Concussion
A concussion can happen in many different ways. It commonly occurs from a direct knock or hit to the head, causing the brain to accelerate and decelerate inside the skull. This is often seen in contact sports like football or in accidents such as a car crash.
However, concussions can also be caused indirectly by contact to other parts of the body. When these forces are strong enough, it can sometimes have the same effect on the brain as a direct blow to the head, disrupting brain function and causing an array of symptoms in patients.
What Patients Experience With A Concussion
Many sporting clubs and medical communities have a concussion protocol to help with screening any potential symptoms and preventing complications. This is because mild concussion recovery time can look very different from patient to patient, so it’s important to have a structured approach to identify the signs and symptoms of a concussion – because it’s not always obvious. Additionally, symptoms might not occur at the time of the injury, and may only develop in the days or weeks following.
Some of the symptoms patients with a suspected concussion may experience can include physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms.
Physical Symptoms Of A Concussion
The most well-known symptoms of a concussion are the physical symptoms. These include:
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Changes in vision
Emotional Symptoms Of A Concussion
People might not realise that a concussion can lead to mood changes. Some of the emotional symptoms of a concussion include:
- Being short-tempered
- Mood swings
Cognitive Symptoms Of A Concussion
Some of the mental processing symptoms of a concussion include:
- Brain fog (i.e., not being able to think clearly)
- Feeling slow or dazed
- Trouble concentrating, such as at school or work
The Stages Of Concussion Recovery
So how long is concussion recovery? Well, recovery after a concussion is not linear. There can be good days and bad days, depending on the patient and the severity of their injury.
The following are the common 5 stages of concussion recovery:
The First Step: Getting A Diagnosis
It’s important to have a doctor properly assess any suspected concussions. This will ensure the correct diagnosis is made, and other injuries or conditions are ruled out – such as dehydration, neck injuries, and other medical issues.
There isn’t a singular test that is used for this, rather a process that can include:
- Discussion of the injury
- Review of any relevant medical history
- A physical examination
- Specialised tests following an assessment protocol
- Imaging, such as a CT or MRI
Immediately After The Concussion Injury
Once the diagnosis is made, doctors will start a treatment protocol to promote the recovery process. Early assessment and intervention is critical to preventing complications such as post-concussion syndrome. Post-concussion syndrome recovery can be prolonged and challenging for patients, so the goal is to avoid this.
Immediate care after a concussion may include:
- Rest: Doctors will usually prescribe rest for concussion. This includes both physical and cognitive, including avoiding screens or heavy tasks. Additionally, patients shouldn’t drive or drink alcohol.
- Symptom management: Patients can have an array of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. The doctor can suggest strategies in the early stages to help with minor concussion recovery time.
- Pain relief: A doctor will prescribe any relevant medications for symptoms like pain, headaches, or discomfort. It’s important to follow the doctor's instructions.
- Monitoring: Doctors will continue to monitor patients. If the symptoms are severe or get worse, they may send patients to the emergency room for specialised treatment.
Early Days Of The Recovery
After the acute phase of the concussion, symptoms may start to settle. However, other symptoms might start to develop, called delayed symptoms. Doctors will monitor this to detect any changes or relapses that may affect the concussion recovery time.
Short-term recovery care may include:
- More rest: Physical and cognitive rest is an ongoing part of the treatment protocol of recovery time for concussion. This continues into the later stages of recovery.
- Activity management: Relapse of symptoms is a common part of concussion recovery. To avoid this, doctors may suggest modifying certain activities, such as shortening daily tasks or reducing the number of tasks throughout the day.
- Ongoing symptom management: Symptoms are continually monitored and addressed where possible. Depending on the level of recovery, the doctor may recommend seeing a physiotherapist in this phase. A physiotherapist can not only monitor ongoing progress, but can also prescribe certain treatments to accelerate the recovery. This may include gentle exercise, massage, or other hands-on techniques. Pilates is often introduced in this stage as a low-impact form of exercise.
The later stage of recovery from concussion includes a slow reintroduction of daily activities. A physiotherapist can help guide which activities and exercises are tolerated to improve endurance and avoid symptom exacerbation. Adaptive strategies may be used to help support patients, for example modifying work or school environments to avoid symptom relapse.
Return To Normal Activity And Sport
Recovery is incremental and may include many ups and downs. When symptoms start to resolve or settle, the doctor may consider re-introducing normal activities and sport.
However, this is a graduated process and depends on factors like the symptoms, recovery progress, and intended activity or sport. Before returning to normal activity, it’s important to get clearance from a healthcare professional. They can implement preventive measures and precautions to ensure it’s safe.
The Factors That Affect Recovery After A Concussion
Recovery times after a concussion can vary widely from patient to patient. Some patients get back to normal quickly while others may have a prolonged journey to recovery.
Some of the factors that can affect the recovery process include:
- Age: A young brain is still developing and will likely recover differently from an older brain. Elderly patients with a concussion may experience more prolonged recovery times.
- Individual differences: No two brains are the same, so healing is different for everyone with a concussion. This is influenced by genetics, childhood, diet, overall health, and more.
- Pre-existing medical conditions: Certain medical conditions may affect recovery timelines for patients, particularly those with a history of migraines or neurological conditions.
- Previous concussions: There is a reason there is a lot of media attention around concussions in sports like the NFL. Repeated concussions can have a devastating impact on long-term brain function. There is evidence that it can lead to a higher risk of developing neurological conditions such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
- Lifestyle: External factors like occupation, social support, and the patient's environment can affect healing times too.
Getting The Right Treatment For A Concussion
Even with mild symptoms, a concussion should never be ignored. The risk of complications is too great, and early assessment and treatment is critical for mild concussion recovery in preventing complications and long-term symptoms.
These complications can include:
Post-concussion syndrome occurs when the symptoms of a concussion persist longer than anticipated. With the right assessments and treatment, a concussion usually settles within 7-10 days. In post-concussion syndrome, recovery is slower than usual and symptoms can persist for longer than this recovery period, often for weeks or months. As a result, it can affect daily life, work, socialising, and mental health. It’s essential to get the right treatment to help prevent chronic symptoms from developing.
Complications Requiring Specialized Care
Minor concussion recovery is usually straightforward. However, untreated concussion can lead to serious health complications, such as bleeding on the brain, requiring specialised medical care. Beyond the acute phase of the injury, a concussion can also lead to long-term symptoms, such as personality changes, memory loss, and severe mood swings. Sometimes this may develop years after the initial brain injury.
Concussions: The Invisible Injury
Concussions have been described as an “invisible injury” because it’s not always obvious when they occur. Athletes may even return to the field after a concussion without anyone realising the significance of their injury. For this reason, screening and early intervention is key to brain health and preventing the complications of a concussion. For any suspected concussions, be sure to seek medical assistance.
- Health Direct. Concussion. Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/concussion#:~:text=Concussion%20is%20a%20minor%20traumatic,visits%20to%20a%20health%20professional.
- CDC. Recovery from Concussion. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_recovery.html
- Physiopedia. Assessment and Management of Concussion. Available from: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Assessment_and_Management_of_Concussion#:~:text=80%2D90%25%20of%20concussions%20resolve,particularly%20in%20children%20and%20adolescents.