By Lindsay Butler
April 30, 2024 0 Comments

Maximizing Concussion Recovery: The Role of Occupational Therapy and Kinesiology

Understanding Concussion

What is a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)? Simply put, it’s a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body. Concussions can occur from various incidents, including sports-related injuries, falls, or car accidents. The tricky part? Symptoms can vary widely and may not always be immediately apparent. Contrary to common belief, a concussion may not necessarily result from a direct blow to the head or involve a loss of consciousness.

Common symptoms of concussion include:

  • Headache or pressure in the head
  • Changes in consciousness
  • Confusion, slow reactions
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Significant emotional/behavioural changes

It’s important to recognize these symptoms and seek medical attention if a concussion is suspected, as proper diagnosis and early management are crucial for recovery.

Most symptoms of concussion in adults resolve within 1-4 weeks. While most recover within this time frame, some may find symptoms last longer, for about 1-3 months. In fewer cases, symptoms may last longer than this, and may be referred to as post-concussion syndrome. This can manifest as ongoing headaches, dizziness, cognitive difficulties, and emotional changes, significantly impacting daily life. In such cases, interdisciplinary evaluation and treatment are important for managing symptoms and facilitating recovery.

How can occupational therapy help?

Occupational therapists (OTs) are uniquely equipped to address the broad range of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms associated with concussions, which can significantly impact daily functioning. OT services for concussion management may include:

  • Concussion Education: To clients and their families, providing resources and referrals to other service providers if necessary. 
  • Cognitive rehabilitation: Employing various techniques to help individuals regain cognitive abilities, from memory and attention to problem-solving and executive function.
  • Symptom management: Working closely with clients to develop individualized plans to manage symptoms impacting participation in daily life. Ex. Fatigue management, sleep hygiene and relaxation strategies
  • Return to Work/School planning: Collaborating with clients, employers, and educators to facilitate successful return-to-work or return-to-school plans, negotiating accommodations or modified duties where needed.
  • Environmental Modifications: Adapting physical environments and/or prescribing adaptive equipment to support recovery.

When is a referral to occupational therapy recommended?

According to the Post-Concussion Care Pathway developed by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation (ONF), referral to an OT should be considered under several circumstances:

  • When the client requires support to reintegrate into daily activities, school, or work.
  • When there are cognitive deficits or difficulties present.
  • If the individual is experiencing mental/cognitive fatigue, sleep disturbances, or co-occurring orthopedic injuries.

How can kinesiology help?

Kinesiologists design personalized exercise programs tailored to individual needs, gradually reintroducing physical activity to aid in recovery while minimizing concussion symptom exacerbation. Therapeutic exercise is widely acknowledged as a valuable component of concussion rehabilitation, contributing to enhanced brain function, symptom alleviation, and faster recovery. Kinesiology services for concussion rehabilitation may include:

  • Graduated Exercise Programs: Kinesiologists design personalized exercise programs tailored to specific needs and abilities. Gradually reintroducing physical activity can support concussion recovery by improving blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation, and increasing endorphins. 
  • Balance and Coordination Training: Kinesiologists implement targeted exercises and techniques to improve balance, coordination, and proprioception, which may be affected by concussion-related vestibular and sensory disturbances.
  • Symptom Monitoring: Kinesiologists closely monitor individuals’ symptoms during exercise sessions, modifying activities as needed and communicating with other providers to ensure safety and prevent symptom escalation.

When is a referral to kinesiology recommended?

According to the Post-Concussion Care Pathway developed by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation (ONF), referral to kinesiology should be facilitated when:

  • Support to return to physical activities is required.
  • When headache, dizziness, vestibular issues, or physical fatigue are present.

Key Messages:

  1. Early education and intervention can prevent prolonged recovery.
  2. Interdisciplinary evaluation and treatment are crucial for those with persistent symptoms.
  3. Individualized rehabilitation programs optimize recovery.
  4. Gradual return-to-activity plans ensure safe reintegration.
  5. Access to experienced interdisciplinary teams supports comprehensive care.

Concussion recovery is a journey, not a sprint. With the support of our occupational therapists and kinesiologists, you’ll have the guidance, resources, and experience needed to navigate any twists and turns ahead.

If you’re ready to kickstart your concussion recovery, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to support you every step of the way.

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