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Recovering from a concussion: what adults should know


Concussions are injuries to the brain, most commonly resulting after a fall, motor vehicle collision or sports injury. The impact causes the brain to move in the skull, essentially stretching the brain cells and causing chemical changes that trigger symptoms. At the most recent Speaker Series – Concussions & Traumatic Brain Injury: Facts, Fiction and Fundamentals for Prevention and Recovery – occupational therapist Elke McLellan discussed the best tips for adults for recovery and returning to activity safely.

If you suspect you have a concussion, McLellan says the first step is seeing your doctor or nurse practitioner and getting a proper diagnosis. While the majority of people do recover fully within a few days or weeks, it’s a very individualized process. Many factors can impact recovery, including certain mood disorders or having had a previous concussion. About 15 to 20% of adults experience persistent concussion symptoms.

McLellan says finding the right balance between rest and activity is key to a good recovery. In the first 24 to 48 hours, the focus should be on giving your brain a true break from stress and stimulation. That means getting a good night’s sleep and taking naps during the day as needed. You may need to take a few days off work to rest and recover.  Gentle activities, like listening to soft music or quiet socializing, are not harmful as long as they are not exacerbating your symptoms. She says to avoid strenuous physical activity, being in busy places, driving or spending time on a computer or texting.

While this initial period of rest is critical, the most recent evidence suggests that prolonged rest can do more harm than good. After a few days, McLellan recommends a slow and gradual progression back to activity. Generally, this includes starting with easy activity for short periods of time, gradually building up your tolerance.

She says to make sure your return to work and other daily activities is gradual, so that may mean doing so part time or reducing your responsibilities for a short while. As you recover, avoid any high-risk activities that could put you at risk of suffering another concussion.

McLellan also recommends to not push through your symptoms or take on too much, as this will only set you back. She says everyone has a different tolerance threshold, so recognize yours and stay within safe limits of activity and stimulation. It is important to plan and pace your activities. Keeping track of your symptoms and triggers, maintaining a regular routine and sleep schedule, and reaching out to others for support will also help. See your health care provider if your symptoms are not improving or if you need help getting back to your usual activities. They will help you make a plan to improve your chances of having a full recovery.

View Sunnybrook’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury / Concussion Handbook »

Watch the full Speaker Series talk:

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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