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Concussion Management Part 2: How Long Does Recovery Take?

By Cassandra Kroner, PT

In part 1 of the concussion management blog series we covered how the brain is affected following a concussion, common symptoms, why early intervention is critical, and how physiotherapy can help optimize recovery. One of the most frequent questions people have following a concussion is about recovery time – ‘when can I go back to work full time?’ or ‘when can my son/daughter play soccer again?’. It can be helpful to understand the general stages of injury and potential progression of symptoms:

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The initial days following a concussion are considered the acute stage of injury, and cognitive and physical rest is critical at this time. After 7-10 days of adequate rest the chemical balance and blood flow in the brain has been restored, and symptoms that continue are known as post-concussion syndrome. Some symptoms can last upwards of 6 months or years post injury. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone will progress through all three stages, and the length of time symptoms last will vary between individuals.

Why Recovery Can Take Longer

There are a number of factors that can complicate and prolong recovery, and these can help us predict if symptoms are likely to persist longer than the usual 6 weeks. A history of migraines, mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, or learning disabilities, have been found to increase recovery times. Additionally, visual or vestibular dysfunction or a high number of initial symptoms following a concussion usually indicate prolonged recovery.

History of Concussion

People who have had a previous concussion are more susceptible to have another one due to a lower threshold for injury after each concussion – meaning the next concussion can happen from a lower severity injury than the first time. Additionally, there is often an increased number of symptoms and a longer recovery time after each subsequent concussion. A concussion at a young age risks disruption of brain circuits yet to be developed, and also creates a wider window for repeated future concussions.

Repetitive hits that are common in sports such as hockey or football, which do not cause a concussion, are known as sub concussive trauma. Research has shown this repetitive trauma can result in increased reaction and processing time, memory impairments and increased chance of making mistakes. These effects can place an athlete at an increased risk for a concussion during sport. If the athlete does sustain a concussion at this point, the brain has a diminished reserve capacity to manage injury, and the effects of subsequent concussions are cumulative and result in increased impairment in function with each concussion.

Additional Injuries

Another complicating factor is the presence of other injuries, such as whiplash or neck sprain/strains, that can occur with falls or car accidents. These neck injuries alone can cause similar symptoms to a concussion including headaches and dizziness, and in combination with a concussion can result in more severe and prolonged symptoms. Having an assessment by a physiotherapist can determine which symptoms are from the neck injury and which are from the concussion – resulting in individualized treatment strategies to target the cause of each symptom.

To conclude, although concussions can be an invisible injury, they need to be properly managed and rehabilitated just like any other injury. This management includes assessment to determine the cause of symptoms, specific treatments to address each impairment, and strategies to manage recovery at home. Visiting a physiotherapist trained in concussion rehabilitation will ensure that both concussion symptoms and neck injuries are addressed. The goals of treatment are to restore physical and cognitive function while facilitating a safe return to work and sport. Awareness and education about concussions and treatment options are important to ensure that people don’t suffer unnecessarily from prolonged symptoms – this is where a trained Physiotherapist can help!

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Physiotherapy for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) is a broad term that encompasses various disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). If you experience jaw pain with chewing, jaw clicking/popping, facial pain, or frequent headaches, you might have a TMD. Physiotherapists can diagnose and treat TMD.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Anatomy and Function

The TMJ is composed of two articulating bones: the temporal bone (part of the skull) and the condyle of the mandible (jaw bone). There is an articular disc located between the two bones. The disc is firm but flexible, and its purpose is to reduce friction and cushion the repetitive force between the two bones during chewing, talking, and any other joint movement.

During jaw opening, the condyle of the mandible and the articular disc normally slide forward in unison. The muscles surrounding the joint are responsible for moving the mandible and the disc in sync. If the condyle and the disc are out of sync with each other, this is called disc displacement and is characterized by pain and clicking sounds when opening the mouth.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of TMD can include the following:

  • Jaw pain when opening the mouth wide or chewing
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Limited range of motion, or unable to fully open the mouth
  • Painful clicking or popping when opening or closing the mouth
  • Tooth wear and tear from grinding or clenching the jaw
  • Facial pain
  • Headaches
  • Ringing in the ears

Causes of TMD

Often, there is no single cause of TMD. There is usually a combination of factors which predispose a person to TMD.

Poor posture of the neck, head, and shoulders contributes to muscular tension and strain. Poor posture may cause muscle imbalance and changes in muscle length in the neck and shoulders. These muscles pull on the jaw and can alter the resting position of the mandible in the joint, resulting in increased stress on the TMJ and disc. After prolonged time, the joints in the neck and back may become stiff and cause associated symptoms such as neck pain, limited range of motion, and headaches.

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In addition, jaw clenching or teeth grinding may contribute to the development of TMD. When the jaw is clenched, the muscles are under increased tension and may pull the disc out of position. It normally happens while the person is asleep, so they are unaware they are doing it. Clenching or grinding can also result from being under stress (e.g., at home or at work) for a prolonged period of time.

Finally, trauma or injury to the TMJ (such as a broken jaw) may predispose a person to TMD.

Treatment for TMD

Physiotherapists assess and treat TMD using non-surgical and drug-free techniques. The physiotherapists at BodyTech Physiotherapy will evaluate your condition to determine the underlying factors contributing to your pain. They will prescribe an individualized exercise and stretching program based on your unique needs. Our physiotherapists are also trained to correct biomechanical changes of the TMJ and neck using manual therapy.

Other options for treatment include:

  • Relaxation procedures
  • Acupuncture
  • Dietary modification to relieve jaw pain during chewing
  • Dental orthotics or mouthguards worn at night. These help to prevent teeth grinding and jaw clenching
  • Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Medications to relax the muscles of the jaw
  • Surgery, in rare cases

Temporomandibular joint disorder is a complex and multifaceted condition. With all the factors that can contribute to TMD it is important to visit a physiotherapist for a detailed assessment to ensure treatment is individualized to your specific issues.  If you experience jaw pain and headaches, consider seeking help from a physiotherapist.

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