Effective in August 2019, Physical Therapists (PTs) were added to the list of medical professionals approved to clear a student athlete for return to sport in the State of Colorado.  This was a big win for PT’s and athletes, as PT’s are one of the primary healthcare professionals knowledgeable in the assessment, treatment and recovery process of concussions.  Concussions are a form of brain injury that can be the result of a direct blow to the head, or an indirect shaking of the head due to a body blow. Loss of consciousness is not required to define concussion. 

Though concussions are prominent in high school and collegiate sports, the number one cause of concussions across all age groups are motor vehicle accidents. In older adults and young children (under 10 years), falls are the second highest cause.

When concussions occur outside of an athletic event, they typically go undiagnosed. In the elderly this is especially true since some of the symptoms from a concussion occur naturally in the aging process (poor memory, confusion, loss of balance). Thus it becomes particularly important to recognize the signs that a concussion has occurred. There are no imaging tools ( X-rays, MRI’s or CAT scans) that can diagnose a concussion.

The majority of tests are subjective, relating to what a person is feeling. Symptoms can include Headaches, memory loss, confusion, nausea, fatigue, sleep disturbances and sensitivity to light or sound stimulation.

Objective tests involve testing eye movements, cervical range of movement, standing balance, physical exertion test and/ or cognitive tests. Using all these, health professionals can help diagnose the severity of the concussion.

Not all concussions are preventable, but there are things one can do to help decrease the risk of getting a concussion. 

1. When in a car: always wear your seatbelt and have small children in car seats

2: Wear a helmet when biking, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, playing football, hockey and/or riding a motorcycle.

3.  Prevent Falls and Reduce Tripping Hazards in the house: Place grab bars in bathrooms, remove rugs that have a tendency to move or stick up off the floor, clean up any wet surfaces immediately on the floor, and make sure they is at least one hand rail on stairs.

By avoiding your first concussion, you are decreasing your risk for future concussions as; studies have shown that after one, your risk for a second injury is increased.  

Concussions are a treatable injury with good outcomes when addressed appropriately. One of the first hurdles in providing appropriate treatment is recognizing signs and symptoms of concussions and seeking medical attention.  In addition to rest, physical therapists are an integral part of the recovery process and assisting in returning function to normal.