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Physical therapy can help concussion symptoms

By Kathy Hubbard
“I may need a new helmet after the tumble I took today,” a friend of mine said one day last week. I had just gotten home from interviewing Beth Wise, an occupational therapist at Bonner General Health’s Performance Therapy Services. Wise and I had talked extensively about how physical therapy is helpful for concussions, so I told my friend to seek medical attention immediately.
Of course, I was scoffed at but, the next day he complained that he had a headache, soreness in his neck and was having difficulty concentrating on the tasks at hand. He said that he kept falling asleep even though he had slept well the night before. I said he had a concussion and needed to seek medical attention immediately.
Wise said that symptoms of even a moderate concussion can last for years. They may include blurry vision, inability to think clearly and/or balance issues. A person may think the slight head injury, whether it be from a fall, auto accident or sports injury is nothing, but without a proper evaluation, it may be something. Something debilitating. And, we’re not just talking kids here. Wise said concussions affect just as many adults, if not more.
“We want to create awareness,” Wise said. “So, we’ve been presenting information to local doctors and emergency room folks about what physical therapy services we offer for concussions. With early intervention, patients can learn ways to remediate those issues and develop a successful plan to return to their regular activities.”
“A student might start failing their classes, and that can been avoided with treatment. For instance, it’s a waste of time for a student with concussion to spend the whole day in school. The teen will shut down and stop learning. So, depending on severity of the symptoms, we may suggest that the patient go to school for just a few hours, and outside of school avoid screen time.”
Part of the comprehensive evaluation includes vision screening. Wise said that they will test to see how the eyes move. Do they move together? Are they intact? Is there a blind spot in the vision? Are reading skills affected?
Of course it’s not just about vision. There’s memory loss, difficulty concentrating, headaches, hyper-sensitivity to noise that will be evaluated as well.
Solutions can be as simple as an examination by an ophthalmologist or optometrist and a good pair of glasses. Wearing a hat to block glare, earplugs to mute sounds, taking frequent breaks all work in conjunction with physical therapy and medications.
As always, the sooner the better it is for seeking treatment. “I highly recommend not waiting,” Wise said. “A person with a head injury should heal in about six months, but one should be evaluated right away. A student will fall behind in school. An adult will damage their job performance. It all comes with consequences.”
And, Wise knows. Not just because of her last name (I couldn’t resist that one) but because she was trained at arguably the best hospital in the country for traumatic injuries, Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“Harborview is a teaching facility so they have lots of resources,” Wise said. “It was an amazing opportunity to learn at a higher level.” A graduate of the University of Washington, Wise worked at Harborview for seven years before coming to Sandpoint two years ago.
“I’ve had lots of experience working with brain injuries, strokes and spinal cord injuries,” Wise said. “I want to increase awareness about where people can receive this therapy. I want to get the word out that we can produce good results.”
Maybe Wise said it best when she said, “Unless we train the brain to heal properly, it never will. So why be miserable for six months? Not all problems can be fixed right away, so do the right thing for yourself.” Did you hear that my friend?
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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