When Post-Concussion Syndrome Develops

A visual representation of what goes on in your brain with post concussion syndrome!

What is post concussion syndrome to me? Post concussion syndrome is a bug that reaks havoc on your brain, setting off bombs of headaches and drops of depression & anxiety on a consistent daily basis. This bug not only tinkers with your brain, but also your eyes and ears, making the slightest sound and softest light piercing to the eye and ear. If post-concussion syndrome were a person it would be ‘Mr. Mayhem’ from the popular AllState commercial, PCS reeks havoc on your life unexpectedly and can disrupt your closest relationships. It attacks you physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Post-Concussion Syndrome is a condition that develops after you have had a concussion for more than the average duration of 1-2 months. If you find yourself with lasting symptoms, you will find yourself in a very dangerous area. You see, when post-concussion syndrome develops it becomes difficult for the brain to return to how it once was prior to the initial injury. As symptoms continue to last you may find yourself in a vicious cycle of progressing and regressing. This is where I found myself to be. For a week or so I’d feel better and then BOOM I’d have a setback and symptoms would arise and force me to my bed. Many articles will say that you should just continue to rest and over time your symptoms will just magically disappear. But this is something that didn’t just happen for me, no matter how much I rested my symptoms would stay with no change. If you find yourself in the same situation, then this post is for you.

Maybe the secret to overcoming post concussion syndrome isn’t solely in resting and waiting, perhaps the secret to recovering is in retraining your body to become reacquainted with normal environments and conditions. The Sports Medicine Clinic at UPCM Pittsburgh utilizes this type of recovery treatment in their patients. It is called “Expose & Recovery”, in which patients are encouraged to expose themselves to uncomfortable situations and environments, to rest, and then try again. This technique allows for the brain to become more familiar with the stimuli, so that over time it is able to handle it with no problem. So, when post-concussion syndrome develops you literally have to retrain your brain to familiarize itself with normal environments and activities again.

I unintentionally started using this technique. After I had had a concussion for about 5 months, school had ended, I had graduated and I needed some cash to help pay for college. At this point I had been completing my ‘Expose to Recovery’ workouts, and could tolerate loud and bright environments to an extent, for maybe 30 minutes or so, before getting a moderate headache. This was a significant improvement from where I was earlier in my recovery. I decided to go back to work. I had been employed for some time at the YMCA as a nursery attendant. I felt nervous and uncomfortable about going back, because I feared overexerting myself. I told my boss of my condition and she put me on the schedule for 3 days per week for 4 hours each day, but assured me if anything became too much that I could go home.

The YMCA is fluorescently lit in every single facility in the building, I worked with kids so especially over the Summer it could become unbelievably loud and hectic at any given moment. I knew that it would be challenging, especially knowing that I would not be able to protect myself with sunglasses or earplugs. Each day varied. Starting out I ended up having unbelievably intense headaches to the point that I couldn’t even finish the shift. I would go home rest and then try again and again. It wasn’t that I was working too much or overexerting myself, my brain was just not used to being under fluorescent lights without protection, so it took some time to adjust. After about the fourth week of doing this, I was attending work with no problems. By the end of the summer I even added a few more shifts. I was conquering fluorescent lights for the first time in my entire concussion recovery.

“Expose and Recovery” is a technique that I really do believe works. The anxienty and fear that you may have towards this is real and I understand. But, it is important that you give your brain the opportunity to retrain and reprogram itself.

SO! In conclusion, we all know post concussion syndrome is a complete jerk, but when fought the right way you CAN overcome it.

Happy Healing Everybody,

Nicole

My Medications

One thing that I tried my best to avoid during my entire recovery was medications. I rarely took pain killers when I developed post-concussion syndrome, because I wanted to know exactly when and where my headaches were located, as well as how intense they were; however, after I went into my second month with a concussion, my doctor prescribed me Nortriptyline.

Nortriptyline (Pamelor)

Nortriptyline is an anti-depressant drug that is used to help those with depression, but my doctor prescribed it in order to treat my headaches. Nortriptyline works by restoring the natural chemical balance within the brain. This medication worked the best for me and over time my headaches significantly reduced. But, it seemed to only mask my headaches instead of treating and healing them for good. I took Nortriptyline for a period of three weeks and then stopped the week before my next appointment with my doctor. After I had taken my last dose and the days went on without it, I could literally feel the medication wearing off. The headaches began to return with increasing severity as each day passed without it. For this reason, I did not like this medication. Though it does a great job in reducing head pain temporarily, it does not solve the root issue for good.

Gabapentin (Neurontin)

The second and last medication that I tried was Gabapentin or Neurontin. Gabapentin is a nerve pain medication and is a anticonvulsant and antiepiletic drug. Once again, my doctor prescribed this to me in order to relieve my chronic headaches. This drug did more harm than it did good. I took the medication right before I went to bed as I was instructed and as soon as I woke up the next morning I knew something was wrong. As I got ready for school I felt more dizzy and weak than usual. Thinking that it possibly had something to do with dehydration and hunger, I ate the huge breakfast my mother had prepared for me–pancakes, bacon, eggs, and grits. I shook it off and went to school. As I waited for my first period class to begin, I remember thinking that the lights in the hallway were more bright than usual, feeling that I might faint I sat down. I decided to look up some reviews on Gabapentin and they were awful. People complained about having intense, nausea, trembling, headaches, difficulty in concentrating, and much more.

This couldn’t have come on a worser day. I was supposed to complete an Algebra test during my first period, but I felt like a complete zombie. I persisted and went to class and hoped that it wouldn’t get any worse. But.. it did. Once the tests were distributed and I took a peak at the problems, everything seemed to come over me–the awful headaches, nausea, dizziness, and trembling. My head began to pound with increasing pain and I was unable to concentrate at all on the test. It took me a significant amount of time to finish it. In the midst of my tears and trembling, I am really amazed that I was able to finish it at all. After class, I remember unable to see clearly, everything was so foggy and I became unbelievably weak. If anyone had touched me, I surely would have fallen.

So, what is my review of this medication? 0 stars. But once again, everyone’s body is different. Mine happened to not take to this medication well at all.

My Overall Feelings

My overall feelings of medication are also somewhat negative. I hoped that by taking medication it would help in the healing process, but it only seemed to discourage me even more. The medications only masked my symptoms without improving them once I was taken off them. I personally wanted to become fully functioning without becoming dependent on a medication. However, if you are looking for something to relieve your headaches temporarily then ask your doctor about Nortriptyline, it relieved my headaches with very minimal side affects.

I hope this helps!

Happy Healing Everybody(: