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Treating & Managing Concussion Symptoms

University of Utah Health has some of the top experts in concussion management with a comprehensive approach to ensure patients make a full recovery. Our specialists provide a wealth of knowledge across the spectrum. We are one of the only programs in Utah that provide all of these specialties together. 

Our specialists are located around the Salt Lake Valley and appointment times range between 45-60 minutes, with the exception of neuropsychological testing which can be one to two hours.

Speech Therapy

Specialists evaluate and help manage cognitive-communication deficits, such as:

  • attention,
  • memory,
  • language, and
  • executive functioning skills.

This treatment helps people manage their symptoms and return to their daily activities, such as school and work.

Physical Therapy for Vestibular or Balance Rehabilitation

The vestibular system sends information to your brain about your balance and changes in body position with movement. After a concussion, your vestibular system may have a difficult time processing and responding to movement, causing dizziness, nausea, or unsteadiness.

Neurologic physical therapy specialists evaluate and address concerns of:

  • dizziness,
  • balance,
  • vertigo,
  • headaches with activity, and
  • movement.

This physical therapy helps people gradually return to work, school, or sport/activity.

Physical Therapy for Headaches & Neck Pain

The cervical vertebrae are located in your spine toward the top of your neck. You have muscles around these vertebrae that help stabilize your neck. If a concussion injures these muscles, you may experience pain and tension (whiplash).

Orthopedic physical therapy specialists examine the musculoskeletal system for problems in these areas that could be contributing to headaches or neck pain. They provide hands-on techniques and exercises to address these problems.

Occupational Therapy for Vision Rehabilitation

During a concussion, your brain’s visual system may become injured due to its sensitivity to trauma. Our visual system allows us to process what we see, how much light enters our eyes (pupils), see near and far, and move our eyes.

After a concussion, patients may experience blurriness, double vision, and sensitivity to light.

Occupational therapists focus on screening and treating abnormalities in your vision, like:

  • double vision,
  • blurry vision,
  • difficulty reading,
  • scanning around, and
  • help manage sensitivity to light through exercises and modifications to the environment.

Rehab Psychology

For anxiety, depression, and coping strategies.

Neuropsychological Testing

For an in-depth cognitive assessment, please expect your appointment to be about two to four hours.

Concussion Red Flags

Signs and symptoms of concussion can last minutes to hours, sometimes days to weeks, or in some cases months. Anyone who experiences any symptoms after a bump or blow to the head should be seen by a health care professional who has experience evaluating concussions.

It is important to watch for any of the following red flag signs and seek prompt medical treatment if present.

  • Worsening headaches
  • Severe neck pain
  • Slurred speech
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty remembering familiar people or places
  • Continued loss of consciousness
  • Worsening numbness or tingling
  • Increasing weakness
  • Increased confusion or irritability
  • Unusual behavior or personality changes
  • Seizures

If you have not seen a provider following your concussion and are still experiencing symptoms or if you are involved in a risky activity like contact sports, you should refer to our list of locations to schedule an appointment.

Infographic Concussion

What to Do If You Have a Concussion

If you have a concussion, you should:

  • drink plenty of water.
  • try drinking some electrolytes to restore the chemical balance of cells in your brain.
  • reduce activities that are physically demanding or require more concentration.
  • reduce your screen time or shift your phone to night mode with less blue light.
  • reduce or refrain from drinking alcohol.
  • try dimming the lights or using natural light.
  • slowly and gradually return to your routine, and take rest breaks when needed to help prevent symptoms from flaring up significantly.
  • walk at a comfortable speed—starting for 15-20 minutes.
  • ask your health care provider when it is safe to return to your normal activities, such as driving, participating in sports or recreational activities, or operating heavy equipment.

Concussion Don'ts

If you think you have a concussion, do not sit in a dark, quiet room for a week. Research shows that this can actually prolong your recovery.

Patients with a concussion should rest for no more than 24-48 hours. Do not return to a sporting activity if you continue to have symptoms or have not been evaluated by a health care provider.

It is recommended that individuals should return to pre-injury activities as soon as tolerated, with gradual progression (with the exception of activities that have a high risk of concussion). Supervised exercise may also benefit patients with persistent symptoms.

How to Prevent a Concussion

If you are still experiencing symptoms from a prior concussion, you should never return to a high-risk or high-impact activity. If you do, you increase your risk of a subsequent concussion or worsening your symptoms and prolonging your first concussion recovery. 

When playing contact sports or biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, snowboarding, or skiing, we recommend that everyone should wear properly fitting, sport-appropriate safety equipment, such as:

  • headgear,
  • mouthguards,
  • pads/guards, or
  • facemasks.

Safety equipment will not eliminate your risk entirely, but it may help prevent a more serious injury or reduce the risk of a brain injury.

What to Expect at Your First Appointment with a Concussion Specialist

During your initial visit, one of our specialized providers will thoroughly review your injury, recent symptoms, and will complete a physical examination based on your injury. From these findings, we will provide recommendations for treatment to address your symptoms.

Screening & Analysis

Depending on your injury, we will conduct some of the following screenings and analyses during your first appointment:

Imaging tests (if recommended)—Imaging may include X-rays to look for fractures of the bones of the head/neck or other areas involved. MRI/CT scans may be recommended to look at the brain for bleeding or swelling. 

Head and neck screening—This screening will look at your ability to move your head and neck in all directions and assess if there are areas of pain/discomfort or restriction. If there are problems, it typically indicates joint or muscle involvement. Your provider will determine if this is concerning and will require further follow up. 

Symptom report scale—It is important for providers to determine what symptoms you are experiencing and to what degree to make appropriate recommendations. This will also help your provider track your progress over time. 

Vision screen—You provider will be looking for abnormal eye movements (difficulty looking in different directions, scanning back/forth or up/down, holding your gaze on a target). Some individuals will experience dizziness, headache, nausea, or fogginess with this screening.

This will help the provider determine if you need to see a physical therapist for vestibular therapy or a vision therapist. 

Balance screen—After a concussion you may experience the sensation of disorientation, dizziness, or feeling off-balance. Your provider will complete testing to look at your ability to balance in different conditions to determine if you need to see a physical therapist for balance training. 

If you are referred to a specialist, you may also complete tests that analyze your reaction times, memory, problem solving and cognition.

How to Make an Appointment

To schedule an appointment, please call our central phone number 801-581-2221. Please notify the representative that you are calling for our concussion team/program.

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