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2/24/17: Concussion recovery tips from a remarkable teen and her physical therapist

Lily Winton, a high school student at Newton North in Newton, is not your typical teenager. She suffered a tubing accident in the summer of 2015 that resulted in her third concussion. Her prior concussions were incurred from playing competitive soccer. During her road to recovery from post-concussion syndrome (PCS), Lily learned some essential tips that may be useful for anyone suffering from concussions – and in Massachusetts, that is a lot of people. 

Lily Winton and Jessica GravelA recent study from Blue Cross Blue Shield shows that Massachusetts has the highest rate of diagnosed youth concussions in the country. Every year, millions of people of all ages have concussions that occur from regular daily living, including falls on the ice, accidents, and playing sports.

Here, Lily shares her suggestions for recovery that she used, along with her near-daily work with her physical therapist, Jessica Gravel, the senior physical therapist and outpatient concussion coordinator with Emerson Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies.

The following are therapies and approaches Lily found very useful for helping her recover from PCS, which included severe headaches, neck and back pain, organizational challenges and memory issues:

  • Physical therapy to target specific muscles to stretch and strengthen, in order to restore normal muscle functioning
  • Cognitive therapy to regain organizational skills and help with memory struggles
  • Ocular therapy to retrain and re-strengthen eye muscles injured from the accident and concussion
  • Personal therapist to help manage grief, loss, PTSD, social and school issues as a result of missing her junior year of high school
  • Pain injections to help manage migraine pain, neck whiplash pain and severe back spasms
  • Myofascial massage therapy for neck and back to relieve knots, tension, spasms, and relieve headaches
  • Myoworx electric stimulation device that helps promote muscle relaxation and restores normal levels of blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscle
  • Upper cervical spine therapy to improve the mobility within the spine, as well as decrease muscle spasms and deep tension to help promote overall muscle relaxation
  • Yoga and meditation – deep breathing to calm the nervous system and help with emotions
  • Gym workouts to help keep body in shape
  • TMJ (short for temporomandibular joint) therapy can help take pressure off of headaches
  • Heat to calm neck and back when it is in spasm; it also can help with relaxation and rest
  • Visualization to try and break away from the pain and focus mind on something else
  • Stretch regularly to keep the body loose and help de-stress
  • Be with people who make you happy and find hobbies you can do that do not increase pain but take your mind off of it, such as baking, drawing, walks in fresh air, and playing board games
  • Stay hydrated and eat foods high in protein and low in sugar
  • Keep a journal to track your progress
  • Have an exit strategy wherever you go if the stimuli is too much
  • Bring a tool bag and always have it with you: Lily’s bag included a water bottle, a can of Coke, eye glasses, pain meds, headphones, neck pillow, journal, charged cell phone and a protein snack

For more information about concussions or recovering from head injuries, please contact Emerson Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies at 978-287-8200 or visit www.emersonhospital.org/rehab.

Photo caption, left to right: Lily Winton and her physical therapist, Jessica Gravel, at Emerson Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies