Post-Concussion Treatment and Recovery: Therapy and Counseling

Many healthcare providers are unfortunately not keeping up with the most recent post-concussion research and continue to tell their patients that mental rest is the only post-concussion treatment. While some rest is still important to recovery, it is crucial to engage in proper post-concussion treatment and protocols to ensure your symptoms don’t worsen.

Patients who suffer from concussion symptoms due to mild traumatic brain injury were traditionally instructed to rest as the only course of treatment. While the research on concussions and post-concussion treatment is always evolving, we now know that prolonged mental and physical rest is not the answer. Too much rest can inadvertently cause post-concussion symptoms to worsen.

What is Post-Concussion Treatment?

A young man being examined by a doctor for post concussion treatment.

Post-concussion treatment and recovery focus on gradually increasing exposure to various types of stimulation. It is essential to work with a trained post-concussion therapist through this process.

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Post-Concussion Treatment Tips:

Light exercise after a concussion is one treatment leading to full recovery.

A great concussion specialist will look at all elements of someone’s overall health and concussion history to determine the most effective post-concussion treatment for each individual. There are some tips many individuals find to be helpful during their recovery process that improve their post-concussion symptoms.

Any post-concussion treatment plan should ideally include the following supportive health tips to ensure a well-rounded approach that is more likely to result in better recovery and improvement in symptoms:

1. Exercise during post-concussion treatment

Exercise is beneficial in improving recovery from a concussion. Elevating your heart rate during exercise causes increased blood flow to your brain, speeding up the healing process.

The movements done through exercise can also help to normalize nerve activity. Coordinating the simultaneous movement of your neck, head, arms, and legs as you move helps to trigger positive and regular nerve activity. Exercise is proven to improve mood levels, encourage restful sleep, and reduce anxiety and depression related to healing.

Recommendations for exercise during post-concussion treatment:

  • Walk daily – Walking is typically tolerable for post-concussion treatment patients, and the movement patterns related to walking can help to aid recovery. 
  • Avoid activities with the potential for contact -You should avoid all activities with any chance of hitting your head (such as rollerblading or volleyball) until you are free of all post-concussion symptoms.
  • Slowly return to physical activities – Use a heart rate monitor to track your heart rate during physical activities as you ease back into them to ensure that you incrementally raise your heart rate a little more with each session.

2. Practice good sleep hygiene during post-concussion recovery

As with any physical ailment, our bodies recover best when sleeping. Sleep accelerates cell repair within the body and allows necessary healing.

Tips for practicing good sleep hygiene during post-concussion recovery:

  • Use a white noise machine – If suffering from tinnitus (ringing or unwanted noises in ears) post-concussion, a sound machine or phone app playing white noise in your sleeping space can help soothe you.
  • Make a “no screens before bedtime” rule – Prohibit yourself from using your computer, smartphone, and TV in the last hour before bedtime.
  • Consider taking a melatonin supplement – If your exposure to sunlight has been limited (such as in winter), it can be helpful to add melatonin to your bedtime routine on nights you struggle to fall asleep.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule – Wake up and go to bed at the same times each day, including on the weekends.
  • Use a weighted blanket – If you feel restless, try incorporating a weighted blanket while sleeping.
  • Refrain from napping during the day – Naps can mess with your sleeping routine and make it difficult to fall asleep at your designated bedtime.
  • Add exercise to your daily routine – Exercise can help exhaust the body more to allow a quicker drift into sleep once you lay down at night.

3. Maintain a nutritious post-concussion diet

The food and drinks you put into your body during your post-concussion recovery period strongly impact how your body heals. Proper nutrition positively affects blood flow, hormone balance, and cellular activity which increases brain function.

Tips to maintain a nutritious post-concussion diet that aids in healing:

  • Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of water and avoid dehydrating fluids such as alcohol, soda, energy drinks, and coffee.
  • Limit caffeine – In addition to dehydrating the body, caffeinated beverages act as stimulants that can overwork your brain’s neural pathways and lower your tolerance for routine activities.
  • Maintain a consistent meal schedule – Healthy food eaten consistently throughout the day is nutritional fuel for your body and brain to continue recovering.
  • Be aware of symptom-causing foods – Certain foods such as cheese, chocolate, sugary foods and drinks, citrus, and preservatives can make you more likely to experience inflammatory-induced headaches.

6 Stages of Concussion Recovery

A sports team celebrating victory. Recovery from concussion can lead to a full and healthy life.

If an athlete suffers a concussion, they should only return to playing sports with the supervision and approval of their healthcare provider. Following the proper post-concussion treatment and recovery protocol is essential to maximize your recovery and not risk further damage from a second concussion.

According to the CDC, there are 6 stages of concussion recovery to ensure an athlete’s safe return to playing sports. It’s also known as the post-concussion treatment 5-step program because step 6 involves a return to full normalcy. Post-concussion recovery isn’t always quick and can take days, weeks, or even months to work through all of these stages:

Stage 1: Back to regular activities (such as school)

Once the athlete is back to their regular activities such as attending school and they have approval from their healthcare provider, they can begin to ease back into the “return to play” process.

The athlete can gradually add activity back into their routine by starting with a few days of rest (2-3 days typically) and then participating in light activities such as short walks and moderate activities such as riding a stationary bike. If symptoms worsen, it’s important to step back and go more slowly.

Stage 2: Light aerobic activity

Engaging in light aerobic activity such as riding a stationary bike, walking, or light jogging is a great way to slightly raise the athlete’s heart rate. This stage can include 5-10 minutes of engaging in one of these exercises, being sure not to lift any weights at this stage.

Stage 3: Moderate activity

The athlete continues to engage in activities that steadily increase their heart rate while adding in body or head movement. Suitable moderate activities to engage in include briefly running, moderate jogging, riding a stationary bike at moderate intensity, or moderate-intensity weightlifting. It’s essential to exercise for less time and lift less weight than the athlete would in their typical routine.

Stage 4: Heavy, non-contact activity

Once moderate activity has been added back in without worsening symptoms, the athlete can add heavy non-contact physical activity to their recovery plan. These activities can include sprinting/running, riding a stationary bike at high intensity, incorporating a regular weightlifting routine, or non-contact drills specific to their sport.

Stage 5: Practice & full contact

If continuing to see improvement in symptoms, the athlete may return to practice and full contact (if involved in their sport) within a controlled practice setting.

Stage 6: Competition

The athlete may return to competition or play in games with full participation. Special attention should be paid by the athlete, coaches, and others to the athlete’s concussion symptoms as they progress through the 6 stages of concussion recovery.

An athlete should only progress to the next stage if they do not experience any new or worsening symptoms at the current stage. If an athlete’s symptoms return or new symptoms develop, this is a warning sign that they are pushing too hard. In this event, the athlete should stop all activities and seek advice from their medical provider.

Post-Concussion Treatment Therapy at Mental Health Center of America

Mental Health Center of America specializes in treating post-concussion symptoms from mild traumatic brain injury. There are many options for post-concussion treatment in Phoenix & Mesa at MHCA. Our therapists use evidence-based treatment options for post-concussion treatment to help our clients see improvement from post-concussion symptoms.

Our evidence-based treatments utilized for individuals enduring symptoms associated with a concussion include:

Due to the various symptoms that can occur with concussion, a collaborative and multidisciplinary treatment plan is provided for each client by our licensed healthcare providers at MHCA. Our therapists create a custom treatment plan for each individual to facilitate the most effective symptom reduction and foster an individual’s resilience to thrive after a concussion.

Find Counseling for Post-Concussion Treatment in Phoenix & Mesa, Arizona

Post-concussion symptoms can worsen if you don’t seek proper treatment. At Mental Health Center of America, we provide customized post-concussion treatment plans to help you improve your symptoms and work through the recovery process. We are proud to be a top provider of Arizona mental health services and have counselors in Phoenix and Mesa ready to help you overcome your post-concussion symptoms today.

Our therapists use evidence-based treatment options for post-concussion treatment. Contact us to learn more about post-concussion treatment options in Phoenix at Mental Health Center of America.

Take The First Step

Complete this brief form to schedule your commitment-free assessment at our convenient Phoenix or Mesa locations, or call us at (602) 704-2345, and our helpful staff will assist you.