The first time Clara suffered a concussion playing high school soccer, her doctor recommended bedrest for a week. But after her second concussion, her mother took her to the St. Jude Concussion Clinic, where each of her lingering symptoms were treated with targeted, individualized therapy.
"New research is helping to significantly improve how we treat concussion,” explains Sue Potts, PT, Outpatient Therapy Manager, Neuro and Cancer Rehabilitation, who helps lead the highly respected and multidisciplinary St. Jude Concussion Clinic. “We know so much more about concussion today, we can isolate each symptom and tailor treatment in a way that wasn’t possible before.”
The trauma that the brain sustains during a concussion and the symptoms it creates — including headaches, dizziness, confusion and fatigue — will usually resolve within two weeks. For most individuals, simply taking it easy and avoiding any physical activities that could reinjure the brain is enough.
But for patients like Clara, where symptoms linger, expert assessment and treatment becomes essential. “Symptoms that remain untreated for months become much more complex and difficult to treat,” says Kevin Smith, PT, an expert in balance and vestibular issues at the clinic. “When we can evaluate and treat a patient two weeks after injury — like Clara — we can support the brain’s ability to heal and return patients much more quickly to their lives.”
After being evaluated by one of the clinic’s physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians, Clara began a week of individualized therapy. A physical therapist specializing in orthopedic and sports issues helped resolve the neck pain caused by strained cervical muscles — and then provided sports-specific rehabilitation and training to allow a quicker return to play. Her lingering problem with dizziness was Kevin’s focus, who utilized vestibular training techniques and sophisticated computerized balance therapy to treat the symptom. And because Clara also had headaches when doing homework, making her anxious, she was assessed by the clinic’s neuropsychologist, who provided strategies to resolve her issues with concentration, memory and anxiety. The neuropsychologist also provided Clara’s school with a detailed plan on how to accommodate her symptoms as she recovered.
Two weeks after sustaining a concussion, Clara was back on the field. “My symptoms were frightening at first,” explains the 18-year-old. “But the therapy made a difference right away and when I got back to practice I felt really good, ready to go.”
As research continues to shed light on how diverse symptoms of a concussion can be, the type of multidisciplinary evaluation and treatment that Clara received is key — yet most concussion clinics only provide limited assessment and diagnosis. “What we offer our patients is definitely unique,” Sue says. She explains that the clinic draws from St. Jude’s nationally-respected services in brain injury, neuro-rehabilitation, pain management, and sports medicine. “You might say we have a significant head start when it comes to helping patients recover more quickly and successfully.”
To learn more, visit us at stjudemedicalcenter.org/concussion or call (714) 578-8706, ext. 2328.