Welcome to Stay in the Game, a monthly blog where the team from The Queen's Health Systems share the latest tips on the treatment and prevention of sports injuries. We want to help you play hard and be well - a winning combination that will keep you in the game all season long.

Effects of concussions on vestibular and ocular systems

This month, Physical Therapist, David Kurihara, from the Queen's Center for Sports Medicine continues the discussion of the effects that concussions have on the health and mobility of athletes. Every year in the U.S., about 3.8 million total concussion injuries occur from recreation or sports-related activities. Various impairments can develop as a result of concussions, and we will take a brief look at the relationship of the vestibular and ocular systems and how concussions may affect these systems in athletes.

What is the role of the vestibulo-ocular system?

The vestibulo-ocular system is a complex network involving the inner ear, brain and eyes. These organ systems work together to maintain postural control and visual stability during head movements. Any head trauma, including concussion, can disrupt the function of these systems and their connections, causing various symptoms.

What are the common symptoms of vestibulo-ocular dysfunction after a concussion?

After a concussion occurs, the following symptoms may begin to appear:

•  Dizziness: reported in 50% of concussed athletes and is associated with 6.4x greater risk in predicting prolonged recovery, which can be more than 21 days.
•  Imbalance: reported in 40% of concussed athletes
•  Visual instability: reported in 30% of concussed athletes and can include blurred vision, double vision, or difficulty reading

What should you do if you suspect vestibulo-ocular dysfunction in your athlete?

If dizziness, imbalance, or visual instability become apparent after a concussion, athletes should be referred to a health care professional trained in concussion injury and vestibular rehabilitation for proper screening of the symptoms. The provider should perform a battery of tests to challenge each system and prescribe proper strategies and exercises to perform at home after evaluation of testing results. A physician, physical therapist or athletic trainer may prescribe gaze stabilization exercises, ocular tracking exercises, or balance training exercises to return the athletes back to normal functioning.

If you or your athlete experience visual or balance issues after a concussion, contact our experts at the Queen's Center for Sports Medicine at 808-691-4449 or click the link below. Check back next month for our final installation of concussion-related information.

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