5 Stages of Concussion Recovery

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of the five stages of grief. I believe that there are also five stages of recovery from concussion, and post-concussion syndrome in particular. Based on my experience, this is what I think they consist of. And while much progress has been made in recent months and the past few years, I imagine much of this still holds true.

View from the mountaintop

1: Injury

These are the days, weeks, and initial months immediately after the injury. Symptoms are at their worst. You have to rest a lot. Your life changes and you begin to adjust as best you can. Everyone around you is supportive.

You research on the web as much as you can. You want to know what is happening in your brain. You have tests done. You go from doctor to doctor, hoping to find something that works. Something might, but it may not.

If you’re lucky, the concussion resolves quickly and this is all you experience. You never get to stage 2 or anything after that. You resume life as you knew it before the injury.

If the concussion symptoms and recovery persist, you eventually find yourself at the second stage.

2: Insult to Injury

It’s commonly expected that your concussion will resolve within days, weeks, and certainly within a few months. If it goes longer, people start to turn on you. Physicians and those in the medical community, and insurance companies in particular begin to look at you askance. Your character is questioned and attacked, your supposed “motives” looked at suspiciously. You begin to hear terms like “malingering” and “anxiety” and accusations of varied sorts. You may be told that you suffer from “somatoform” – that you have the type of personality that puts forth a “best effort” to recover but that, in actuality, you’re making the symptoms happen. In other words, you’re bringing it on yourself. In other words, it’s psychological, not physical. I disagree. Strongly.

All these accusations occur because, of course, nothing shows on the tests. The MRIs and CT scans don’t always show indication of concussion. While everyone knows this, they still use it as some sort of proof that there’s nothing wrong with you. In my case, my doctors “assured me” that there was nothing physically wrong with me.

Cognitive tests may not show the problems entirely, either. I strongly believe that the time of day at which you take cognitive tests matters immensely. The tests should be taken when one is most fatigued, in my opinion. That’s the only way to really see how bad it is, I think.

Of interest in all this are the milestones at which you’re expected to be recovered from your injury. The main ones are six weeks and six months. Those time periods also happen to correspond to insurance benefit lengths or waiting periods for insurance to begin. My question is this: what is driving the discussions of recovery? Science, or insurance? I suspect the latter.

There’s one thing I’d like to find out. Insurance companies and doctors like to see “proof” that concussion exists. I would like to find some scientific studies that show why the six-week and six-month timelines are set. I’d like “proof” that these time periods are not based on insurance benefit and waiting periods.

If you come across any scientific study to support the six-week and six-month timelines, please send me a link. I’d love to be wrong on this assumption I have developed.

Once you hit six weeks, just watch out. Don’t be surprised if the character attacks begin. You will learn what “insult to injury” really means.

This is the point at which you have to fight not only the concussion itself, but all the doctors and insurance companies, and possibly your place of employment or school as well.

3: Hunker Down

At some point in this you’ll realize that, for the most part, the medical community isn’t aware of problems with concussion, let alone how to treat it. Or you’ve taken it as far as you can with treatment you’ve received to date.

Noone.knows.much.about.concussion. This, you finally realize. You are on your own. You realize that further doctor visits, research, or discussion with others are pointless. You stop those activities.

At this point, you hunker down and focus on your recovery, blocking out all else. You put on blinders and look firmly ahead, focus on the successes each day, no matter how small. You trudge on.

Never give up.

That became my motto. So I did, and eventually made it.

Note: This was my experience. This stage might be different for you. There’s much research being done right now and more is becoming known about concussion all the time. I’m hopeful that this is getting better and will continue to do so. I think it will take time, though, for knowledge of concussion to become widely known. So it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that you’ve tried to find doctors that know about it and how to treat it, but you’ve been unable to. If that’s the case, and you’re at this point, settle in. Keep researching, keep up with developments, keep trying, and focus on your recovery.

Update: March 14, 2013. I’m more hopeful than ever that this may be finally changing. I think the medical community is now more aware of concussion, at least. There is progress. However, I still hear about people having to deal with doctors who still know little about concussions and how to treat them. So, unfortunately, I don’t feel I can change this until I stop hearing that this is the case. Keep up with all the changes going on. There’s one way you can do so: follow my Twitter paper: the #Concussion Daily. Here’s a link, and you can also subscribe to it so it’s delivered in email: The #concussion Daily Paper.

Update: December 6, 2013. Wow. A day I never thought I’d see. Today, on Twitter, @the_jockdoc sent out a number of tweets about concussion and how it’s not just a functional issue. And that tests like fMRIs, PET, and more are needed. Made my day! Things are changing, folks. Things are changing. Yet I still long for the day when I can change this section entirely. Until then – hang in there! Stay hopeful!  And please follow @the_jockdoc on Twitter. He’s working hard on this issue. :)

Update: July 2, 2014 It’s getting much better regarding awareness and interest by the medical community. I have more hope than ever. There’s still much to do, but it’s getting there.

4: Mountaintop

One day, you find that you made it. You hunkered down and climbed a mountain. The problems and symptoms resolve to a point to where you have important pieces of your life back. Or, you find that you can do much more. Whatever the case, you realize one day that it’s behind you, for the most part. You made it.

The time it takes to reach this point varies from person to person, no doubt. For me, three years stands out, then four, then definitely five. At three years, I was finally able to ride my bike again. At four years, I finished a super-sprint triathlon. At five years – well, it’s part of my history now.

The triathlon was my mountaintop. I also received some recognition for my blog, which I had started as part of my recovery. So that fourth year was my turning point. I specifically remember being out jogging and feeling very strong in my run. I realized that I would be able to participate in the triathlon. That was the moment I crested the mountaintop. It was one sweet moment, let me tell you.

5: Transition

This stage was a big surprise to me. Once on the mountaintop, I was finally able to take off those blinders. I could look around at everything else. I no longer had to focus on my recovery so much. I could stop blocking things out and instead look at everything. Start doing more.

That was a transition period. After several years of hunkering down, it took some time to get out of that mode. I didn’t expect it, but there it was. It just took some time. It wasn’t difficult. In fact, it was a very good time in my life. Very different, though. Yet very rewarding, to say the least.

I won.

I hope you do as well, if you have a long-term concussion and are reading this. Just remember: never give up. Never let the insults deter you or bother you. Focus on yourself and your recovery. Trudge on and climb that mountain. You can do it. Always believe that.

Keep your eye on the prize: stages 4 and 5.

Related posts:

Comments

  1. says

    THANK YOU JULIE We will never stop fighting and knowledge of Post Concussion needs to be educated throughout sports clubs schools medical world like the AIDS commercials in the 80s to wake up the world and help people recover and be treated like valued members of society Ignorance is Bliss Education is wealth……….. I am available to support your website as a parent and Carer to educate the wider community. My son has lost friends is in limbo and goes with the flow patiently confused and saying he is a burden to his family ..friends who now have never called again after 10 weeks. My heart bleeds for his future re employment and life style back who am I to complain … Dignity is ability not disability ……………..

    • Julie Norris says

      Hi Rachela –

      Please tell your son that there are people who understand what he’s going through. I’m sure there are folks in the PCS recovery communities that can perhaps help, some new friends to find who would know what he’s experiencing. I still think that the only people who really understand concussion and PCS are those who experience it. It’s difficult to describe how your head feels and feeling trapped by a broken brain sometimes. And knowing that the medical community doesn’t know enough yet. It’s not fun to have your life pulled from underneath your feet. In any case, people know what he’s experiencing. It was hard for me to have to ask people for rides to doctor appointments because I couldn’t drive for a long time, and to not be able to help as much at home. Please tell him not to feel as though he’s a burden. :)

      I know it’s hard, but this is what I tell people: hang in there, and always believe that there are better days ahead. Those days aren’t always visible, but you have to believe and just get through each day.

      Thanks for your offer to help support my site and work. I appreciate it!!

      – Julie

  2. Meredith Lueck says

    Thank you for this writing. I was hit in the head at work June 30, 2013. I had all of the symptoms stated above. After a year and a half I’m healed enough to function day to day, but I still struggle with a lot. I was so confused about what was happening, but every time I think I’m on top of it, I get overwhelmed again. It’s so hard because my doctor who has stood by me up to this point now tells me “It’s mind over matter”. To bad my mind doesn’t work right. I fear having to accept this as my new normal and that it wont come back. No one really knows. But it’s nice to know I am not alone.

    • says

      Rachela OH my God Just when I as a mother thought I was alone with my Chiropractor e Doctor waiting patiently for a light at the end of the tunnel at 10 weeks I read your post by chance of internet I see a LIGHT for our son 24 year old academic sport orientated amazing caring young man who doesn’t drive his car not use his mob phone become a recluse almost I begin to believe in all the steps we have taken are for the recovery of Franks life please email me I need all the help I can get a knowledge of education research and willingness to learn has stopped my son from being mis diagnosed medicated and left in the hospital system thank youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu from the bottom of my heart you are an amazing person as at 3.20 in the morning I continue to research and look for answers an Angel of God has answered my prays I want to meet you please Rachela Caiapich Adelaide South Australia

      • Julie Norris says

        Hi Rachela,

        I’m so glad you found this site and that it’s helpful. I really do appreciate it. I provided more information in my other comment, so please take a look at that. :)

        Sending thoughts your way –
        Julie

    • Julie Norris says

      Hi Meredith,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear about your concussion and that it’s taking so long. It’s frustrating when doctors don’t understand it. Just hang in there and don’t give up. I’m not just saying that, either. I know it’s hard to do.

      Take care!
      Julie

Any and all content on this site is provided for informational and educational purposes only. Use it at your own risk. To determine what is best for you and your situation, always consult a physician or medical professional.

Comment policy: You are welcome and encouraged to comment on posts on this site. However, comments that include personal attacks, are of an inflammatory nature, or what I consider to be spam or inappropriate in any way will be deleted at my discretion.

Also, note that any comment you make here is public and will likely be indexed on Google and other search engines. Include only information that you are comfortable sharing with everyone. For details about these items, review the Terms of Use.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


7 × = fourteen