Managing the Athlete Post-Concussion: Where to Begin

by | Oct 6, 2021 | Featured, Wired on PT | 0 comments

As we enter the month of October in the mountain state the rolling hills begin their transformation into gold and crimson shades, the cool mountain air begins to settle in the valleys, and we collectively celebrate the return of the fall season. With this seasonal change comes the return of fall sports and, unfortunately, athletic injuries. One injury that we could see an increased prevalence of this season is concussion and persistent concussion syndrome. As physical therapists we need to be prepared to help our communities and teams manage unwanted injuries. Are you ready to include managing concussion and persistent concussion syndrome in that task?

Concussion is now recognized as a brain injury. It is not a structural injury, but rather a functional injury. Though the exact pathophysiology of concussion requires continued research, we know that concussion can affect various systems throughout the human body. Because of this, concussion cannot always be detected with advanced medical imaging of the brain alone. When examining a patient post-concussion there are five primary domains that the physical therapist should consider: vestibular oculomotor; cervicogenic; cardiovascular; metabolic; and psychological. A clinical examination that incorporates these domains will help guide the clinician to the best matched treatment for the patient.

The physical therapist should consider the following tests and multi-disciplinary team members within each domain when examining a patient post-concussion: (See table)

Domain of Concussion Symptom Assessments for the Physical Therapist Multidisciplinary Team Management
Vestibular Oculomotor Vestibular Ocular Reflex (VOR) assessment in horizontal and vertical planes

Saccade Test

Smooth Pursuit Test

Cervicogenic Cervical active range of motion assessment

Cervical flexion rotation test

Rotatory chair test

Physiatry, Neurology, Orthopedics
Cardiovascular Assessment of resting vital signs including heart rate, heart rate variability, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation

Assessment of vital signs and rate of perceived exertion with exertional aerobic activity

Cardiology, Exercise Physiology
Metabolic Screening dietary and nutritional habits

Screening recent lab work

Screening past medical history

Endocrinologist, Registered Dietician, Functional Medicine Doctor




Timing is critical in the management of concussion! Prescribing the correct treatment plan based on the symptom manifestation can greatly help to accelerate the timeline of recovery. Recognize that not every patient will present with the same symptoms post-concussion and therefore careful examination is required. If you are a physical therapist working with an athlete post-concussion this fall, consider the above domains in the management of their care. I would additionally encourage the physical therapist to establish a relationship with other medical providers, such as those listed in the graphic above, because managing a patient post-concussion can require teamwork.


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