What Are The Long Term Effects Of Post-Concussion Syndrome?

Immediate symptoms of concussion or mild traumatic brain injury usually resolve after a few days. However, in some sufferers, these symptoms persist long after the injury with a period that can range from weeks to months (or even years). This is a condition known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS).

According to the Harvard Medical School, PCS is more common among women than men. Individuals who have previous mental health problems prior to head injury, individuals who experienced traumatic stress (such as veterans, service members, military), and athletes exposed to recurrent head trauma are more likely to develop this condition. It’s not uncommon to misdiagnose PCS in people with chronic pain, PTSD, anxiety and depression because of the non-specificity of its symptoms. As such, accurate diagnosis is vital to its immediate and holistic rehabilitation.

Post-concussion syndrome affects at least three of these domains:

  1. Physical (balance problem, dizziness, fatigue, headache, and noise sensitivity)
  2. Emotional (feelings of anxiety, irritability and sadness)
  3. Cognitive (problems with short-term memory)
  4. Sleep pattern (insomnia, lack of sleep, excessive sleepiness)
  5. Excessive worry over symptoms
  6. Intolerance for alcohol

PCS symptoms are often recurrent and can greatly affect the quality of life.

Rehabilitation of post concussion syndrome

Getting enough rest and minimizing stress are necessary to treat post-concussion syndrome but rehabilitation requires more than rest and stress management.

People who are suffering more severe symptoms of PCS require more intensive medical, psychological and psychosocial rehabilitation. The use of psychotherapy and antidepressants along with medications to treat symptoms are a mainstay.

Complex cases, however, may be referred to a network of specialists that will help explore and understand the condition better and recommend additional care needed. Rehabilitation of post-concussion syndrome may vary depending on the symptoms experienced by the individual. Some possible rehabilitation programs that a PCS sufferer may undergo include:

  1. Visual rehabilitation – if the concussion includes visual symptoms such as blurred or double vision
  2. Vestibular and motor coordination rehabilitation – if there is an ongoing or recurrent balance and coordination symptoms
  3. Cervical proprioceptive training – if injuries to the neck resulted in visual disturbances, neck problems or incorrect neck sensations of position
  4. Cognitive behavioral therapy – this rehabilitation program seeks to address behavioral and psychological symptoms due to the PCS
  5. Neurocognitive rehabilitation – PCS sufferers who have attention, memory and executive symptoms may be recommended to undergo this rehabilitation program
  6. Monitored aerobic exercise programs – increased blood flow and oxygenation to the brain is essential for optimum healing and recovery as well as restoring the normal cerebral blood flow
  7. Medication – various medications may be prescribed depending on the symptoms presented by the individual; for instance, analgesic may be prescribed for headaches, antidepressant for depression, etc.

Rehabilitation of post-concussion syndrome requires a holistic approach to fully address the symptoms of the individual. Recently, studies have shown that medical acupuncture or the use of low level electrical nerve stimulation can help minimize PCS pain and other symptoms. DC electroacupuncture has shown very promising results for individuals suffering from PCS. While this adjunctive therapy is not yet considered a mainstream treatment, it can help a PCS sufferer during the long rehabilitation process.

All said, PCS sufferers develop changes in emotional, physical, behavioral and cognitive facets of their lives, and thus require high-quality, multi-faceted rehabilitation. Throughout the rehabilitation process, repeated evaluation of cognitive status and physical symptoms are done to guide the management of the condition. Lastly, the use of various strategies is essential to achieve enduring results – with an end-goal of bringing back the individual to a normal, healthy life.