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Concussion Recovery: A Long, Hard Journey Ends with Relief

Jennifer Anderson (not her real name) was watching a volleyball match when a wayward ball flew into the sidelines where she was standing and slammed into the back of her head. Over the next few days, she experienced headaches, fatigue and nausea. She was dizzy and extremely sensitive to sound and light.

Anderson spent her 50th birthday in the ER, where she was diagnosed with a concussion. But the diagnosis was only the beginning of her concussion recovery journey. After months of unsuccessful treatments by doctors and other specialists, she finally found her way to Melissa Womble, PhD, a neuropsychologist and director of the Inova Sports Medicine Concussion Management Program.

“I can still remember sitting in her office when she said, ‘You realize this is totally treatable,’’ Anderson recalled. “I broke down crying, because I didn’t realize that. She was confident I could get better, and it gave me such relief.”

Many Treatments, Little Relief

After her injury, Anderson tried everything she could to heal her injured brain. She saw doctors and psychiatrists. When one concussion expert told her “This is as good as you’re going to get,” she left the office in tears. Desperate, she tried a long list of therapies, including physical therapy, acupuncture, neurofeedback and chiropractic treatments.

For 10 long months, the symptoms continued. The headaches, dizziness and fatigue made it hard to do her work as an economist and training officer in Washington, D.C. She had been studying for a training certification when the accident happened. Her symptoms made it impossible to continue those studies.

At their first meeting, Womble asked Anderson to name one thing she really wanted to do but didn’t think she could. Anderson admitted she was scared she’d be unable to go on the Italy vacation she’d scheduled with her family 4 months later. “She said, ‘If we don’t have you on that plane, we’ve failed,’” Anderson recalled. For the first time in a long time, Anderson felt hopeful.

Concussion Treatment That Worked

Womble and her team instructed Anderson to stick to a rigid schedule to regulate her injured brain: Wake up at the same time, eat at the same time, exercise at the same time every day.

Then came vestibular therapy. That therapy involved specialized exercises to reduce the dizziness that was causing Anderson’s persistent nausea. She also spent 2 months working with the physical therapists at Inova Physical Therapy.

Some of the doctors Anderson had seen previously had told her to rest and take it easy. But Womble encouraged her to exercise. With that push, Anderson tentatively started running and practicing yoga.

The first two months, she didn’t see much improvement. At one point, she called the Inova concussion hotline, worried about the lack of progress. “They were so supportive, just consistently strong and positive,” she said. “They assured me it was just a matter of time.”

Sure enough, 4 months after her first appointment (and more than a year after her injury), Anderson felt well enough to enjoy her Italian vacation.

A Specialized Concussion Clinic

Two years after the volleyball accident, Anderson is fully recovered. In fact, she’s earned a yoga teaching certification. During a recent training, she even tackled a headstand. “I never thought I’d be able do it — but I did,” she said.

These days, she keeps the Inova concussion hotline number saved in her phone, just in case she might meet someone who needs a recommendation. “Dr. Womble and her team are such pros,” she said. “If I had found this team earlier, it would have saved me thousands of dollars in healthcare costs, thousands in lost wages, and it would have had a lot less impact on my family.”

Concerned about concussion and need help identifying symptoms or scheduling a concussion appointment? Call our 24/7 Concussion Hotline: 703-970-6427 or request an appointment with our Concussion Management Team.

Inova Sports Medicine is the Official Sports Medicine Partner of the Washington Nationals and the Washington Redskins.

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