Cervical Spine implications in concussion
Neck aetiology, autonomic and immune implications, exercise and diet in the musculoskeletal physiotherapy management of Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS)
by Martin Krause, MAPA, Titled member Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Association of Australia
A 14 year old boy presented to A&E, in August 2016, after receiving an impact to the head during AFL (Australian Rules Football). Although his SCAT3 scores were relatively mild, he went on to suffer severe lethergy, resulting in a lengthy abscence from school, culminating in a return to school for exams in the first week of December 2016. Even by December, even a 30 minute walk was extremely fatiguing. To place this into perspective, he had been playing elite academy grade AFL for several seasons and was an extremely fit outdoor adventurer.
Confounding Variables :
- end of season injury and hence no follow up from the academy
- suffers from Hypermobile Joint Syndrome (HJS) and possibly Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), however Beighton score 4/9.
- suffers from food intolerances, particularly to Glutin and diary, but also some other foods. Potential IBS and autoimmune issues.
- had just gone through a growth spurt (190cm)
Brain MRI normal
Medical Examination :
Balance remained impaired to tandem walking and single leg stance. The vestibular occular motor scale showed significant accomodation deficit of 15cm and there was a mild exacerbation of symptoms. ImPACT testing revealed adequate scores and reaction time of 0.65 which is within acceptable range.
School holidays December - January. Return to school and was placed in the lower classes. Prior to his concussion he was a top 10 student at an academically selective high school. Took up basketball and rowing as summer sports. Academic results tanked. Several Basketball injuries (Feb - April 17') as a result of what apppeared to be muscular imbalances from the relatively recent growth spurt, as well as taking on a new sport. Showed little interest in returning to AFL as no-one had followed him up during the previous year.
Current History :
September 2017 showed a continued decline in academic levels. School teachers noted an inability to concentrate. Academic results still well below pre-concussion levels. Fatigue continuing to be problematic.
Literature Review :
Post Concussion Syndrom (PCS) is defined as "cognitive deficits in attention or memory and at least three or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, sleep disturbances, headache, dizziness, irritability, affective disturbance, apathy, or personality change"
Further complications of PCS also appear to be an increased risk of musculoskeletal injury
Predictors of PCS are uncertain. However, the following clinical variables are considered factors at increasing risk. These include prior history of concussion, sex (females more prominant), younger age, history of cognitive dysfunction, and affective disorders such as anxiety and depression (Leddy et al 2012, Sports Health, 4, 2, 147-154).
Unlike the 'good old days' which recommended a dark room and rest for several weeks post concussion, the consensus appears to be a graded return to exercise in order to restore metabolic homeostasis. Incredibly, highly trained young individuals can find even exercises in bed extremely demanding. Kozlowski et al (2013, J Ath Train, 48, 5, 627-635) used 34 people 226 days post injury to conclude significant physiological annomalies in response to exercise which may be the result of 'diffuse cerebral swelling'. Researchers have noted lower systolic and higher diastolic blood pressure in PCS (Leddy et al 2010, Clin J Sports Med, 20, 1, 21-27). Due to autonomic dysfunction manifested in altered cardiovascular and pulmonary responses (Mossberg et 2007, Arch Phys Med Rehab, 88, 3, 15-320) some clinicians have recommended the use of the exercise program for POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). This is a 5 month program which recommends mainly exercise in the horizontal and sitting positions for 1-4 months, including recumbent bike, rowing ergometer and swimming laps or kicking laps with a kick board. Month 4 upright bike and Month 5 upright training such as a elliptical trainer or treadmill.
Other progressive exercise therapies have also included 20 minutes per day, 6 days per week, for 12 weeks of either treadmill or home gym exercises at 80% of the heart rate at which their concussion symtoms are exacerbated. Their programs were individually modified as the heart rate provoking symptoms increased. When compared to the 'control group', this intervention was shown to improve cerebral perfusion on fMRI, increase exercise tolerance at a higher heart rate, less fatigue and were showing activation patterns in areas of the brain on performing math processing test which were now normalised (Leddy et al 2010, Clin J Sports Med, 20, 1, 21-27).
Graded exercises could also have included 'motor imagery' as espouse by the NOI group and the work of Lorrimer Moseley (University South Australia) when dealing with chronic pain.
Ongoing Symptoms :
The literature review by Leddy et al (2012) found that ongoing symptoms are either a prolonged version of concussion pathophysiology or a manifestation of other processes, such as cervical injury, migraine headaches, depression, chronic pain, vestibular dysfunction, visual disturbance, or some combination of conditions.
Physiotherapy Assessment :
One year PCS, fatigue continued to persist. Cognitive deficits with school work were reported to becoming more apparent. Assessment using various one leg standing tests employing oscillatory movement aroud the hips and knees for kinetic limb stability and lumbopelvic stability, which had been employed 6 months previously for his Basketball injuries were exhibiting deficits, despite these being 'somewhat good' previously.
Physical Examination : cervical and thoracic spine
Due to the Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (JHS) it was difficult to ascertain neck dysfunction based on range of movement testing. ROM were unremarkable except for lateral flexion which demonstrated altered intervertebral motion in both directions. Palpation using Australian and New Zealand manual therapy techniques such as passive accessory glides (upslopes and downslopes and traction) exhibited muscles spasms in the upper right cervical spine. In particular, the right C1/2 regions demonstrated most marked restrictions in movement. Eye - Neck proprioceptive assessment using blind folds and laser pointer also revealed marked variance from the normal. Repositioning error using the laser pointer with rotation demonstrated marked inability to reposition accurately from the left, tending to be short and at times completely missing the bullseye. Gaze stability with body rotation was NAD. Gaze stability whilst walking displayed some difficulty. Laser pointer tracing of the alphabet was wildly inaccurate. Thoracic ring relocation testing also revealed several annomalies, which may have also accounted for some autonomic dysfunction.
Occulomotor assessment and training
Upper Cervical Spine :
The upper cervical spine (atlas and axis) represents approximately 50% of the available rotation. An investigation into the environmental and physiological factors affecting football head impct biomechanics found that rotational acceleration was one of the few factors approaching significance and concluded that more research should be undertaken to evaluate this (Mihalik et al 2017 Med Sc Sp Ex, 49, 10, 2093-2101).
Commonly referred to as cervicogenic headaches, one in five headaches in the general population are thought to be due to the cervical spine. The Upper Cervical Spine is particularly vulnerable to trauma because it is the most mobile part of the vertebral column, with a complex proprioceptive system connecting the vestibular apparatus and visual systems. It also coincides with the lower region of the brainstem and fourth ventricle. The brainstem houses many neurones associated with autonomic responses to pain and balance. Imaging of the fourth ventricle for swelling of the 'tonsils' and Arnold Chiari malformations are recommended when symptoms persist. In particular, children and adolescents are more vulnerable to neck contusions due to the proportionately larger head and less developed musculature. Cervical vertigo and dizziness after whiplash can mimic symptoms of PCS.. Mechanoreceptor dysfunction and vertebrobasilar artery insufficiency should be part of the differential diagnosis. Mechanical instability of the Upper Cervical Spine should also not be missed.
Further Interventions :
Neurocognitive rehabilitation of attention processes. Psychological intervention using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Neuro-opthalmologist to assess and treat smooth pursuit eye tracking. Naturopath for food intolerances and dietician for the optimisation of diet.
In cases with chronic fatiguing factors, nutrition can be become a vital aspect into the reparative process. This may include energy and mineral rich foods such as bananas, green leafy vegetables for iron and magnesium (200-300mg), oranges for vitamin C (anit-oxidant and helps with the absorption of iron), anti-oxidant rich foods such as EPA/DHA (1000mg) fish oil, curcumin (tumeric), Cats Claw, Devils Claw, Chia seeds, fruits of the forest (berries), and CoQ10 with Vitamin B. Folate and Ferritin levels should also be checked. Calorific energy intake should balance with energy exependiture. However, as we are often dealing with young individuals, as in this case, some form of comfort food may be appropriate such as, nuts, legumes, homus and sushi. Protein intake prior to carbohydrate intake may help ameliorate any blood suger fluctuations due to Glycemic Index factors, however simple carbohydrates (high GI) should be avoided wherever practical. Even oats need to be soaked overnight and cooked briefly, otherwise they become a high GI food and may even affect the absorption of iron. The type of rice used can also influence GI, hence the addition of protein such as fish. Protein supplementations are generally over-used. Daily protein intake should not exceed 1.2g per kg of body weight per day. Dosage for children is less than that for adults.
Investigations, into people with persisting PCS, demonstrated that they applied more force over time to control balance. Helmich et al (2016, Med Sc Ex Sp, 48, 12, 2362-2368) proposed that in regard to cognitive processes, the increase of cerebral activation indicates an increase of attention demanding processes during postural control in altered environments. This is relevant in so far as individuals with post concussive symptomatology have a variety of symptoms including headache, dizziness, and cognitive difficulties that usually resolve over a few days to weeks. However, a subgroup of patients can have persistent symptoms which last months and even years. Complications in differential diagnosis, can arise clinically, when neck dysfunction and altered motor control occur concurrently due to both neck and cerebral pathology. For example, Whiplash and other traumatic head and neck injuries can result in pathology to both regions, whereas, more discreet altered cognitive processing from concussion can result in altered neck motor control. Musculoskelatal Physiotherapy can play a vital part in the treatment of neck dysfunction including the re-establishment of occulomotor proprioception and managing localized strength and cardiovascular exercise regimes. A total body, multi-disciplinary approach which is well co-ordinated amongst practitioners is vital to an optimal outcome.
Uploaded : 17 November 2017