The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome (PCS) can show up in a number of ways, depending on the nature of the head injury. At Northoak Chiropractic Neurology, Dr. Jay Burness and his team have spent years learning how to identify and resolve these issues in patients from all walks of life.
This post will briefly summarize what we’ve found to be the 6 most common post-concussion symptoms: blurry vision, headaches, dizziness, nausea, light & sound sensitivity, and POTS. While these symptoms are NOT an exhaustive list, they are some of the signs that we’ve observed most often in patients who have experienced a mild to severe traumatic brain injury.
Watch the first video in our Introduction to PCS Management series to learn more about how we treat common symptoms of post-concussion syndrome:
Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions!
What is Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS)?
Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a medical condition that affects a small percentage of concussion patients. These patients will continue to experience concussion-related symptoms beyond the usual time period and may require treatment to resolve.
About 80% of all concussions will be completely healed within a month — with no treatment other than rest. However, if you still have concussion symptoms one month after the injury, then it is likely that you are experiencing PCS as a result of some minor brain damage.
At Northoak, we find that our patients have symptoms for 1 to 3 years on average, before they come to our clinic.They come to us as a last resort — when it would have been better to visit earlier in their recovery process.
Note: Immediately after suffering a concussion, it is strongly recommended that you contact emergency services and seek professional medical advice, especially if you lose consciousness as a result of your injury.
Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) Symptoms
The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. As a result, medical problems that affect the brain, such as PCS, tend to be equally complex. Post-concussion syndrome can show a wide range of possible symptoms, depending on which areas of the brain have been injured. It requires an expert to identify the specific injuries to get an accurate diagnosis.
While reading the list, you may realize that many of the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome go together. Symptoms such as blurry vision or light & sound sensitivity will often serve as triggers to others like dizziness, headaches, and nausea. One thing leads to another because the affected areas of the brain are close to each other and share common neural pathways.
Blurry vision in individuals with PCS may be caused by a loss of gaze fixation — in other words, an inability to focus your gaze on a single point. With a traumatic brain injury, gaze fixation can be interrupted by involuntary or spontaneous movements of the eye, or by voluntary eye movements that are incorrect.
In either case, the eyes fail to keep the image of the intended target on the fovea (the centre of your retina and point of clearest vision) and vision blurs. When this happens, your eyes will make a corrective movement to bring the target back into focus. Your gaze will keep straying from its intended object, forcing you to work extra hard to keep it in focus. Our team can help you train your brain to overcome these issues and improve your gaze stability.
People with PCS may experience various different types of headaches. These could be pressure headaches, sharp jabs associated with a certain neck movement, or just overall lightheadedness.
Headaches can have a variety of causes, depending on the person. Identifying the cause of the headaches is key to developing the proper headache treatment.
At Northoak, we take a comprehensive approach to treating headaches by addressing everything from underlying musculoskeletal issues, to imbalances in your metabolism, and even brain function.
The feeling of dizziness is the result of a sensory conflict. When you experience dizziness, your visual perception of where you are is out of sync with what your other senses are telling you.
It’s important to identify what type of dizziness you are experiencing, as each form of dizziness is caused differently. If you are dizzy when sitting, it may be caused by spontaneous eye movements, which could be linked to injuries in the inhibitory pathways of the brainstem. If you are dizzy when moving, it is likely caused by issues with your vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR).
In both cases of dizziness, Dr. Jay can use specific brain exercises to train your eyes and body, so they can get back into synch. This can help reduce or resolve problems with dizziness.
Nausea, or the feeling of sickness, is a common symptom of PCS that will often occur in conjunction with other symptoms. Severe headaches, dizziness, or other sensitivities can trigger symptoms of nausea indirectly. Nausea can also be caused by injuries in the brainstem, specifically in the areas controlling eye movement, so it may be triggered by visual stimuli.
If you are suffering from PCS, the symptoms of nausea that you experience are likely to be similar to the motion sickness that you might feel in a moving car or another vehicle. You will have difficulty performing certain visual tasks or feel nauseous in busy visual environments.
Try to identify what is triggering your post-concussion nausea and develop coping strategies to avoid or minimize your exposure these stimuli. This will help keep your discomfort to a minimum and may ease the recovery process for you.
Light & Sound Sensitivity
Light and sound sensitivities in PCS patients are caused by problems in your autonomic nervous system and are often triggers for other symptoms.
The autonomic nervous system regulates automatic processes in the body like digestion, heart rate, temperature, and blood flow. When it is not working properly, it can mean that your responses to ordinary auditory or visual stimuli are increased. This results in your responses to these stimuli not being inhibited by your body in the normal way.
Certain activities can be more problematic than others and cause symptoms to worsen. For example, working under fluorescent lights or staring at movement on a computer or television screen. Sounds register in the same part of the brainstem responsible for your fight-or-flight mechanism. Even ordinary sounds can trigger a fight-or-flight response in people with PCS, leading to a near constant state of agitation.
POTS stands for postural orthostatic tachycardia. It is a medical condition that causes the heart to race whenever you are sitting up or standing, and often occurs after a physical trauma.
If a patient has POTS, they are likely to experience symptoms like headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, or nausea. These symptoms are likely to worsen if the patient exerts themselves with exercise or encounters stressful situations.
Similar to other symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, POTS is caused by problems in the autonomic nervous system, where our body’s responses to external stimuli (i.e. standing or sitting) are not being inhibited in the normal way.
Post-concussion syndrome patients may experience a range of other symptoms after their injury, including neck pain, difficulty concentrating, poor short-term memory, or more.
Are you showing some of these symptoms? If you have had a past head injury and you think you might have post-concussion syndrome, then call us at (905) 338-5951 or contact the team at Northoak here.