Had A Concussion? 3 Things To Avoid For Your Best Recovery
What to avoid after a concussion
At Brain Hub, I work a lot with patients who have had concussions. Every day in practice, I see that there’s a lot of knowledge out there that people don’t know, especially after they have their initial injury.
I thought it would be helpful to discuss a few things that I feel the general public should have more information about, and summarised these in this article.
The most helpful general advice I can give can actually be summed up in 3 main points about what is critical to avoid directly after a concussion:
- Avoid staying stationary: Immediately following a concussion injury, get up, get moving, even a gentle walk will do you a lot of good.
- Avoid inflammatory foods: Be mindful of your food choices, pick whole foods, things that are known to be supportive to the body.
- Avoid screen time and blue light exposure: Put your phone down, avoid some screen time, you’ll do your brain a favour and really help your recovery from the get-go.
The ins and outs of why these 3 suggestions are so critical for people who have just had a concussion injury are are as follows:
1. The importance of exercise in concussion recovery
One thing which is critical to get right initially, and something which seems to be somewhat counter-intuitive, is that many people don’t approach exercise. The vast majority of patients after a concussion understandably don’t feel well. They feel off balance, dizzy, headaches, low energy, you name it.
And all of those things don’t lend themselves well to wanting to be out and doing exercise. We actually used to approach concussion with bed rest, and keeping people in dark rooms until they felt better. We know however that this is in fact the absolute worst thing we can do for people! We do want people being active, moving. Getting some sunlight, being out, going for a light walk. There are people like myself, trained professionals, who can do standardised tests to support someone in getting the correct training protocol around some exercise.
That being said, if you’re day one, day two and you haven’t been able to book in with someone yet, just going for a walk can be really beneficial.
There’s even more evidence coming out now that looks at whether people start moving, even with a gentle walk on day one, three, five and seven, and what that does weeks down the track in terms of their recovery. So the take home message is “get moving”! Even if you don’t feel like it, move. It’s critical. Studies have reported improvement in the Post-Concussion Symptom Scale (PCSS) score, whereas others showed no effect on the PCSS score. Read more about it in the research article published by National Library of Medicine by clicking at the given link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28570092/.
You’d want to do exercise that you feel safe doing. This is the operative word, safe. If you’re feeling off balance, if you’re feeling really dizzy, that is not the time to go for a walk on a busy street, through a supermarket, things like that.
But maybe you could do something at home instead. Could you walk around? If you have a yard, could you walk around your yard? Could you take a friend with you to go walk? Do you have a stationary bike that you could just sit on, turn your legs over? Getting the blood flowing in some way, shape or form in a capacity that you feel comfortable and safe doing is one of the most important things you can do in the early stages after a concussion injury.
2. How the right nutrition early on can speed up your concussion recovery
It’s really undervalued how important diet and food choices are immediately following concussion. Most people think of concussion as being just a bump to the head. But we now know a lot more about it. Concussion is a whole body inflammatory injury.
After people have had a concussion, we need to be mindful what we’re actually feeding ourselves with. You might have at least heard of things like “functional medicine”, or the importance of whole foods and what food can do or not do for us. After an inflammatory injury like concussion, making wise food choices can dramatically improve your outcomes later on.
Things like avocados, blueberries, wild-caught salmon, walnuts, and others which have been proven time and time again to be good for your brain, actually have anti-inflammatory properties and help with this kind of injury.
Food choices not to make following a concussion injury are definitely alcohol at the top of the list. Processed foods would be next, which includes things with artificial colours and flavourings, and anything out of a package or the middle of the supermarket. Processed meats are also not great due to their nitrate content.
There’s now also a lot of evidence supporting that some people may even benefit from reducing dairy and gluten, because they may be quite sensitive to this. Findings suggest that nutrition plays a positive role during acute mTBI recovery. Read more about it in the research article published by the National Library of Medicine by clicking at the given link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9614271/
As a whole, anything that acts as a pro-inflammatory (causing inflammation in the body, or making inflammation worse) will not be your friend following a concussion.
3. Why screen time and blue light exposure is so harmful after a concussion
Unfortunately we are all surrounded by screens these days. Phones, computers, TVs, they’re everywhere (you are looking at one right now!). They emit a blue light, and they also pose a challenge for our eyes and our brain. We now have studies coming out saying that if people avoid screens as much as they can within the first 48 hours, they actually have a better outcome in the end.
One recent study conducted in 2021 noted that people have a reduction in their symptoms from eight days down to three and a half days just by being mindful of that initial 48 hour period. Another randomized clinical trial including 125 patients with concussion aged 12 to 25 years, those who abstained from screen time during the first 48 hours of recovery had a statistically significant shorter duration of symptoms (3.5 days) than those who were permitted screen time (8 days). You can read the full article at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2783638?resultClick=1
I appreciate this can be a challenge, because we’re all hardwired to stick to our tablets, our phones and our computers. But things like reading a book, chatting with a friend, doing something social can be enormously beneficial following a concussion.
Anything that doesn’t emit a blue light or has a scrolling function like your phone can be a good way to unwind. This is why we recommend a book being probably one of the best things. A magazine, going for a walk, socialising with a friend, taking a dog for a walk, however are also excellent options to keep your eyes and brain engaged in ways which support your recovery.
Listening to music, audio books and podcasts are also great options, because with these you’re also not getting that ocular-motor stimulation, and you’re not getting the blue light from that.
Next Steps to improve concussion recovery
If you have followed these 3 suggestions, you have already dramatically increased your likelihood of a full recovery. To assure that you receive the right advice for your unique situation, it would however be beneficial to have a consultation with a trained professional to discuss your treatment options with you.
At Brain Hub, we have the technology, knowledge and team to guide you through that process of reclaiming your full health. Contact the clinic on 1300 770 197, or click here to pick a time for your initial appointment:
DR JESSICA POVALL
Doctor of Physiotherapy
DPT, BSc (Hons), PGCertPhty