POST-CONCUSSION SYNDROME: A STRUCTURAL PERSPECTIVE
Each year nearly 3.8 million concussions occur. While recent events have highlighted the connection between high velocity contact sports like football and concussion, concussion and its sinister cousin “post-concussion syndrome” (PCS) are not reserved only for high-level athletes. Early identification of PCS and its associated symptoms is crucial for comprehensive management and rehabilitation. New research that you need to know about is exploring the relationship between the skull and neck as it relates to his often debilitating condition.
What is PCS?
Following a blow to the head, folks commonly experience symptoms of a concussion which include headaches, fatigue, vision and/or balance problems, irritability, and more. These issues can arise even if the blow was not strong enough to cause a loss of consciousness, or “black out.” Often in the case of concussion, these symptoms appear early and gradually fade over 7-10 days. Post-concussion syndrome is a situation in which these symptoms persist for weeks, months, or in extreme cases years. The effects are often debilitating and can dramatically impact quality of life, mood, and overall health and well-being.
What causes PCS?
When sensitive tissues in the brain and neck are injured in a hit, fall, or blow, the onset of many secondary conditions or symptoms is likely. It is the change in the function and structure of these tissues (brain tissue, blood vessels, ligaments, etc.) that are the underlying cause of concussion symptoms. Incomplete healing or inadequate rehabilitation of these tissues may contribute to the persistent symptoms related to PCS.
What does the neck have to do with PCS?
Blows to the head forceful enough to produce a concussion often cause a whiplash type injury to occur in the neck. In fact, neck pain is one of the most common secondary conditions in concussion sufferers. Many concussion therapies focus on the brain systems that have been injured (vestibular, ocular, cognitive) but overlook the contribution of a neck injury. New evidence is indicating the importance of addressing abnormal structural shifts in the neck to reach a full recovery post-concussion.
The human head is about as heavy as a bowling ball and is supported on the moveable bones of the neck by a series of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue structures. Impact forces that occur to the head are transmitted to these structures in the neck to dissipate damage inside the skull or directly to the brain. If these forces are forceful enough or the neck muscles lack the needed strength to endure these forces, one or more of these tissues in the neck can become damaged. Following tissue damage is the inflammatory response of the body which often produces pain, stiffness, and other related symptoms.
As the inflammatory response calms down 48-72 hours later, scar tissue begins to build up where the injury occurred. If the spinal bones in the neck became shifted out of position during the impact, this scar tissue can then develop in response to abnormal structure, perpetuating faulty movements (biomechanics) in the neck. For more specifics on this topic, see ”what is Atlas Displacement Complex?”
Abnormal structural alignment produces increased stresses and strains in the tissues supporting the head and neck causing the cycle of injury to continue beyond a normal window of recovery, as in the case of PCS.
What treatment options exist?
Many treatments for neck related PCS symptoms are geared toward removing inflammation in the tissues, blocking pain receptors, and strengthening neck muscles. While these therapies may reduce or temporarily eliminate symptoms, structural problems require structural solutions to achieve full resolution. Doctors who focus on correcting abnormal structural conditions of the neck use objective testing procedures to determine if a displacement has occurred, what the functional effects are, and how to initiate a process of correction. NeuroStructural Corrective Chiropractic Care falls into this category and many patients have found lasting relief of nagging PCS symptoms with this unique form of care.
It is important to note that conditions like PCS are complex and multi-faceted. A comprehensive plan of recovery will likely include both structural and functional approaches. When coordinated in tandem, the process of recovery can occur at a higher rate and to a more lasting degree. To see how the neck and brain interact, click here. If you are uncertain if you have sustained a neck injury that has not been detected, consider a complimentary consultation with our Doctor to discuss your needs.