A Patient’s Journey Through a Concussion Diagnosis and Treatment

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that results from a direct blow to the head causing a disruption in normal brain activity. Over three million concussions are diagnosed yearly. Common concussion symptoms include headache, dizziness, neck pain, difficulty with balance, visual disturbances and cognitive symptoms such as confusion and difficulty with memory. The majority of people who experience a concussion fully recover within three months, but up to 15-20 percent go on to experience prolonged concussion symptoms. Often, those people benefit from a multidisciplinary rehabilitation approach to recovery. 

Mike was an active guy doing what he loved — coaching hockey and working for a recreation department. In August 2017, during work, he hit the back of his head on metal bleachers and lost consciousness. When he came to, like many people, he did not think that he might have a concussion. He left work early that day because he had cut open the back of his head and vomited, but it was not until the next day when he woke up and knew something was wrong.

After his fall, Mike experienced many of the classic concussion symptoms. He had a constant headache, neck pain and felt his whole body getting tight. He recalled that he was often “repeating himself, having difficulty with conversations, feeling out of it, and having memory problems. I was walking around like an empty shell. I didn’t know how bad it really was until I had a moment of clarity and then I could really identify my problems.” Mike remembered thinking that his computer was broken because the words were jumping around on the computer screen.  

Mike noted that his friends and family were worried he would not be able to recover. However, having been around athletes recovering from concussions his whole life, he knew the psychological part was really tough, and he felt lucky to have such a strong support system.

Mike reached out to his doctor and trainers for advice. Two months after his injury, he was seen by Katelyn Cataldo, a nurse practitioner at Emerson’s Dr. Robert C. Cantu Concussion Center. She referred him to physical therapy at the Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies at Emerson Hospital, and soon after he started treatment with physical therapist Heather Mistry, PT, DPT, NCS.

  Mike uses the Vasper for an interval workout with compression and liquid cooling to continue to improve his physical fitness level.

Mike uses the Vasper for an interval workout with compression and liquid cooling to continue to improve his physical fitness level.

“I had the hockey mentality that the harder you work, the quicker you heal, but I quickly learned that it didn’t work out that way for concussions,” Mike recalled. Heather introduced Mike to concussion recovery techniques: working within his symptom threshold and the importance of gradually increasing his activity while addressing his headaches, neck pain and balance. Mike still uses the skills learned during physical therapy to monitor his workouts. Today, he goes to the gym daily for stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular training to maintain his physical fitness.

Mike’s occupational therapist, Laura Lizotte, MS, OTR/L, addressed his visual dysfunction. She taught him about using amber-tinted glasses to help with light and contrast sensitivity, which made a big difference. He worked to improve his tolerance to reading and screens, as well as completing his eye exercises, which helped to decrease his blurred and double vision. Mike continues to gradually increase his exposure to different daily activities, like the grocery store and attending hockey games. His goal is to increase endurance while managing symptoms.

  Mike is seen here completing a visual exercise to strengthen how his eyes work together in order to fix his blurred and double vision.

Mike is seen here completing a visual exercise to strengthen how his eyes work together in order to fix his blurred and double vision.

Mike started speech therapy with Brenda Lovette, MS, CCC-SLP, to work on his memory and focus. Brenda taught him to set a timer and slow everything down in order to comprehend what he was reading. Repetition has been essential to his recovery.

Today, Mike is diligently continuing his journey. He works every day exploring options for concussion recovery, and he feels fortunate that he has so many resources and the patience to keep finding the answers. His hockey mentality pushes him to stay active and motivates him to return to work and coaching. Mike’s advice to others going through a similar situation is to acknowledge that you have a concussion and to not quit.

It is important to remember that every concussion is different and there is no exact timeline to your recovery. If you have ongoing symptoms from a concussion, it is important to seek out support and treatment. The concussion care team at Emerson’s Dr. Robert C. Cantu Concussion Center and the Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies have expertise in the latest treatment and management of all types of concussive and mild brain injuries to assist you in your recovery of function and return to everyday lives.