Lately, I’ve been thinking about concussions, both in the pilates and yoga space, and in music. For whatever reason, I’ve had a number of friends and colleagues suffer concussions lately, and I’ve been seeing the ramifications of that.
First though, what actually is a concussion? According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, a concussion is, “A concussion is an injury to the brain that results in temporary loss of normal brain function, …usually caused by a blow to the head.” For my friends, that can mean a fall, an impact from an object such as a soccer ball, a bike or car accident, or something else. In a concussion or head injury, the brain moves inside the skull but without sufficient cushion from the cerebrospinal fluid, meaning that the potential for damage to nerves, blood cells, or microscopic damage is high. Symptoms and sensations after a concussion can range from nonexistent to headaches, dizziness, vision issues, difficulty focusing, sensitivity to sounds, ringing ears, sensitivity to sounds, and more. Although these symptoms can be overwhelming in and of themselves, musicians face a unique set of challenges in that ensemble playing may be completely different after a concussion.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few pilates clients after a concussion, and I’ve seen some of the challenges people face afterwards. First though, a concussion is not a visible disability, meaning that you may be struggling with energy, focus, or headaches, but you will appear fine to your friends, family and coworkers. In addition, your medical professionals may just tell you that you have post-concussive syndrome, but not give you a lot of suggestions for recovery aside from that. I’ve seen how my clients’ concerns are dismissed by their doctors at time, despite the fact that they may feel helpless and are not receiving care and strategies for recovery. In addition, not all damage or anomalies can be detected in CT scans or MRI’s, meaning that just because the data looks fine doesn’t mean that concerns shouldn’t be taken seriously. While it can be frustrating and overwhelming, the most important thing is to find a clinician that either specializes in concussion recovery or is willing to take concerns seriously, whether it’s a PT, bodyworker, neurologist, or other professional.
Musicians though, face a unique set of challenges with a minor concussion, especially if they are primarily performers.
Sensitivity to sound and light can make ensemble work overwhelming, between stage lights, glare, and no control of volume.
Vision issues an dizziness can make reading music challenging, even if the individual doesn’t have any need for glasses or corrective eyewear.
Headaches and an inability to focus can make ensemble counting equally challenging, make it difficult to follow directions in a rehearsal, and make it difficult to be aware of blending.
Stress, whether rooted in work, family, or performance can also increase symptoms and sensitivity.
Some musicians additionally face some cognitive and motor challenges, feeling as though their hands and fingers don’t move as fluidly as they previously did, or that things feel differently than they used to.
Both the NCAA and NFL have extensive concussion guidelines for identifying symptoms and protocol, but by and large, the suggestion is rest and treatment for headaches. That being said, the brain is incredibly plastic, meaning that changes can absolutely happen over time. The brain changes and adapts and there are more resources and understanding about neuroplasticity than ever before.
Here are some resources out there, both in terms of social media, communities in recovery, and medical professionals:
Concussion Legacy Foundation is a non profit that works on research around concussion and sports.
I’ll be adding to this list and blog as I go, but this a great set of starting thoughts about post concussion recovery.