Recovering from a concussion? You may be itching to get back to your normal routine, but your body probably needs more healing than you realize. Recuperating from post-concussion syndrome is a process that takes time and patience, and if you exert yourself too much physically or mentally, you could be putting yourself at risk for complications.
Most people do fully recover from concussions, but allowing your body to regain strength is key. Here's what you need to know to properly recover through post-concussion syndrome so that you can safely transition back to everyday life.
Take It Easy
After a concussion, both your body and your brain need to rest. Besides getting plenty of sleep, refrain from taxing physical activity and allow yourself to relax. That means putting many day-to-day tasks on the back burner until you've received the green light from your doctor to continue. And it's not just sports and other intense physical activity that can be dangerous: Anything that requires concentration could hinder the recovery process, even flipping through a magazine or browsing through blogs.
Dr. Javier Cárdenas, medical director of the Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, stresses the need to go easy on yourself after the concussion. "During the first 24 to 72 hours, avoid physical and cognitive exertion, including screen time and reading," he says. "Otherwise, light activity can be initiated when symptoms have improved."
If an activity makes you feel mentally or physically strained at any time, stop right away. Whatever you're doing can wait -- your safety takes precedence over any task.
If you have a headache, which is common after a concussion, acetaminophen may be helpful for pain relief. But before you take anything, consult with your doctor. Some over-the-counter medications may increase the risk of brain bleeding. Keep in mind, though, that just because medication has helped the pain subside doesn't mean that the injury to the brain has completely healed.
Ask for Help
While recovering from post-concussion syndrome, you may find that activities you normally do without thinking twice will be too strenuous. Certain actions (driving in particular) will definitely be off-limits. Don't be shy about asking for a hand with things such as tidying up at home or walking the dog around the block. Let your co-workers, managers, teachers, and anyone else with a stake in your everyday life know that you're in recovery mode and will need a reduced workload or time off. Dr. Cárdenas also notes that student-athletes will often require academic accommodations to help them get back up to speed -- both in the classroom and on the field.
Proper Recovery Means Small Steps
Taking care of yourself is essential to complete recovery. Not only will you feel better if you let your mind and body relax, but you'll also be protecting yourself from further brain injury.
"The most important component of concussion recovery is avoiding another injury before recovering from the first," Dr. Cárdenas says. "Most adolescents will recover in a matter of days to a couple of weeks. However, those that get another injury risk bleeding of the brain, swelling, and -- rarely -- death."
Give yourself a break while keeping in mind that certain factors, such as age and physical condition, will affect the length of the recovery process. "The average recovery for an adolescent is 10 to 14 days," Dr. Cárdenas says. "However, every brain is different and heals at a different rate."
Recuperation can be a frustrating process, no matter the injury, but it can be especially challenging after a concussion, when you feel like you're not doing much other than sitting around and napping. It may not seem like you're making progress, but those are the best things you can do for yourself at the moment. To help get through post-concussion syndrome, keep the end goal in mind. Just by relaxing, you're protecting yourself from additional brain trauma and building up your strength. And besides, doesn't a nap sound nice right about now?