Do These 5 Things After a Concussion if You NEVER Want to Get Better
Here’s the scene: a guys’ weekend in Banff with all the fun things that they like to do in the mountains – snowboarding, nachos, steak dinners, and a couple (or perhaps more) adult beverages. All was going well until noon on the second day of snowboarding. I came ripping down a black diamond run, dodging trees and flying over a couple of steep rollers – you know, on the border between chaos and control. Before I knew it, I had hit the ground hard enough to have a garage sale on the side of the mountain. To non-snowboarders, a “garage sale” is when you wipe out so badly that your equipment goes flying in all directions. Such an epic crash leaves you dazed, laying on the snow, and wondering if your limbs are still attached to your body. In my case, I was thankfully still in one piece and not bleeding, but my wits were definitely not still with me. The wind had been knocked out of my chest, leaving me unable to call to my snowboarding buddy as he casually made his way down the mountain oblivious to my condition. Thus I was on my own to pick myself up and get back to the safety of the ski lodge. Unfortunately, I had trouble staying vertical and I quickly realized my head had taken a bad knock.
Welp, thanks, good ole “friend”. Great help you are leaving me on the side of a mountain with a concussion. At least my sarcasm was still intact.
Now, you might assume that since all the participants in the guys’ weekend had “Dr.” in front of their names, we would have recognized and managed my head injury appropriately. However, six years of experience, two concussion education certifications, and over 200 educational hours since then have taught us that mismanagement of the first 48 hours following a head injury can cause prolongation of symptoms by up to an additional month.
What followed was not my brightest decision-making, because, as you may have guessed, the festivities of the guys’ weekend didn’t abate one bit following my knock to the head. Unfortunately, I did all the wrong things and caused myself a world of hurt. So, without further ado, here are the lessons I learned the hard way:
Never go back into the game after a concussion!
If there’s anything that all concussion practitioners can agree on it’s this: don’t risk getting a second concussion if you already have one! In severe cases, successive concussions without proper recovery can cause long-term brain damage. At the very least, getting a second concussion can extend your recovery from days to weeks, weeks to months, or months to years. Also, strenuous activity (i.e. staying in the game) after a concussion can harm brain recovery. Furthermore, the faster a child is removed from play following a concussion (or suspected concussion) the quicker they will recover and be able to return to sports. So, do you think going back on the hill for a few more black diamond runs was a smart idea? What a shocker.
Decreasing body temperature following an injury helps, but increasing it DOES NOT!!!
In fact, elevated body temperature has been shown to cause a significant increase in neurotransmitters that can be detrimental to your recovery. On the flip side, getting a concussion patient out of the sun and into an air-conditioned environment will help to improve their prognosis. Completely ignoring this, all of us brilliant guys hit the hot tub and sauna after our strenuous day on the hill. Bad idea. Within half an hour my head symptoms worsened significantly. Nausea, headache, vertigo, decreased mental function – everything spiralled downward. The heat that may have helped my muscles and joints feel a bit better made my head WAY worse.
Alcohol and concussions are a bad combination.
You’d think this was a no-brainer, but after bouncing my skull off the side of a mountain, the old brain wasn’t working so hot. There’s lots of evidence that pre-concussion consumption of alcohol significantly increases your chances of having Post Concussion Syndrome (symptoms that last beyond 4 weeks). Additionally, alcohol after concussions can mask serious complications (like bleeding in your brain), so the general consensus is that alcohol should be strictly avoided until fully symptom-free. Take home point: beer and nachos before and after my concussion was probably not in my best interest.
Unhealthy foods don’t help a recovering brain.
Excessive sugar and fat are always fun to consume, but they’re not exactly “brain food”. Let’s be real, we were on a guys’ weekend, so nobody was eating a kale salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The order of the day was deep-fried goodness with a side of fermented fun times. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly the Brain Recovery Diet as prescribed by concussion doctors worldwide. High sugar can cause prolonged inflammation, while greasy foods can cause oxidative stress (something that a concussion already causes). So skip the heavy foods if your head isn’t right, or they may make a surprise reappearance later in the evening. Yes, you guessed it, my deep-fried pickles followed by a double-mega-deluxe burger with bacon poutine washed down with a pitcher of craft beer didn’t stay down for long.
Sitting on your butt doesn’t heal your head.
Historically, professionals recommended absolute rest as the primary treatment for concussed patients. This is intuitive since intense exercise can cause a temporary worsening of symptoms. However, this trend is changing as more research is coming to the surface that shows that, after a brief rest (24-48 hours), increasing low-intensity activity in a monitored environment can actually improve recovery. Concussions cause blood flow dysregulation in the brain; if this is not addressed soon, it can cause prolonged symptoms and delayed recovery. So, my absence from all exercise for four weeks after my concussion was yet another bad idea.
So, now that you’re all concerned about the brain of your chiropractor, I’ll reassure you that I have fully recovered without any ongoing problems. Did I walk down the halls feeling like I was leaning to the left for a few weeks? Yes. Did I have to get my wife to drive me to work for a while? Yes. Could I have recovered in significantly less time, with significantly less discomfort? Absolutely. Would I do anything differently now that my knowledge about concussions has increased? Obviously. It took a while, but now I’m completely back to normal, despite my stupidity.
So, now that you’ve heard all about what NOT to do, here are a few hints to improve your concussion recovery.
Take some supplements.
When you get a concussion, the energy levels in your brain drop… significantly. Other than fuelling your body with a diet rich in nutrients, taking a creatine supplement can help to transport energy (ATP) into the nerve cells from the surrounding tissues. Increased energy in nerve cells speeds recovery and decreases one of the most common concussion symptoms: fatigue. Also, treating the chronic inflammation that follows a concussion can help to decrease the chances of ongoing symptoms. I usually recommend a curcumin-based supplement to do this. These should be started immediately (i.e. within a day or two) to help you get a “head” of things.
That is, only bite into things that will help your brain. North Americans typically consume way too many refined carbohydrates (like sugars and other sweeteners) and the wrong kinds of fats. So eat well and avoid “cheat days” for at least four weeks following a head injury. Lots of fruit, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, and fish. Better yet, try going gluten-free, avoiding processed foods, and for goodness sake, stay away from alcohol! After treating uncountable concussions, it’s pretty clear that our patients who stick to a Brain Recovery Diet get back to normal faster.
Change your exercise…for the short term.
Weight-lifting, high-impact sports, and high-intensity aerobics often make your symptoms come back with a vengeance. Instead, ease into low-intensity, low-impact activities for the first few weeks. Come in to see us for a Buffalo Treadmill Test to determine your proper heart rate training range until your symptoms improve. Then we’ll help you slowly increase your level of activity until you’re back to normal.
It’s no stretch to say that I could have decreased my suffering time and sped up recovery by following my own advice. Most concussions heal without any significant complications or delays. However, for the few concussions that don’t resolve easily, getting help from a qualified health professional with training in concussions (like we at Pure have) can improve your chances of making a speedy and complete recovery. Early intervention and education are key.
Don’t be an idiot (like I was) and you will more than likely be just fine after you bang your head.
Dr. Scott Rude