Concussions: they’re not just for athletes

Contributions by: Megan Otto & Amanda Whalen, PT, DPT

When someone hears the word “concussion” their thoughts may immediately jump to a young athlete, maybe a soccer or football player, who has sustained a hard blow to their head in a game or during practice. But concussions aren’t just injuries that athletes endure. Older adults are also a large population who are prone to suffering from concussions.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. Concussions can also be caused by indirect force to the head, such as a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth.

Concussions are often missed or even misdiagnosed among older adults, so caregivers and family need to be on high alert for signs and symptoms. Most concussions seen in older adults are related to an injury from a fall. PRN physical therapist, Amanda Whalen, suggests that older adults often do not mention falls to others or they may not verbalize the symptoms they are suffering from.

Being aware of concussion signs and symptoms is critical to catching a concussion, which is often a missed injury as you cannot physically “see” it. There are four key categories that concussion symptoms are often grouped in, and they are depicted in the chart below:

Physical Psychological Emotional Sleep
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Nausea
  • Vision issues
  • Noise and light sensitivity
  • Eye strain
  • Feeling tired or having no energy
  • Concentration issues
  • Difficulty remembering new information
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • More emotional
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Sleeping less than usual
  • Trouble falling asleep

Typically, a concussion will heal within seven to 10 days. But if the signs and symptoms noted above are missed and trauma to the brain continues, treatment and concussion recovery can take much longer. Thankfully, physical therapy can help!

Individuals suffering from concussions can find that physical therapy treatment can help relieve symptoms and be beneficial to recover.

“When a patient suffering from a concussion comes in for treatment, balance is a big thing that we work on,” says Whalen, PT. “We also work on the neck to relax guarded muscles and make sure that joints are moving properly. All of these affect balance and other typical day-to-day activities, like driving or going to school.”

Low impact activities, like walking or riding a stationary bike, are also proven to help those recovering from a concussion get back to normal. But not all activities are beneficial. Those involving technology, such as watching TV, working on a computer or staring at a phone screen, can have a big impact on the return to normalcy and can prolong symptoms. This is an important reminder for individuals who may be bored during recovery technology is not always our friend!

Whether you or a loved one has suffered from a concussion before, the most important thing to remember is that if any of the symptoms of a concussion are being experienced, you should tell someone. Listening to your body is so important, especially with concussions as putting off treatment can prolong recovery.

“You have to be aware that this (a concussion) is not just going to affect your next week, it is going to affect you for the next year if you don’t take care of it,” says Whalen. “The more trauma, the more blunt forces to the head or falls that you have, it is going to be detrimental to your brain health as well.”

If you or someone you know has recently had trauma to the head and is experiencing any signs and symptoms of a concussion, we urge you to reach out to your physical therapist for treatment. Concussions are often overlooked as they are an injury that cannot be seen, but physical therapy can aid in and accelerate recovery. You can find your nearest clinic location here.

Special thanks to Amanda Whalen, PT, DPT, from our sister location PRN in La Jolla, California.

Armada Physical Therapy – Coors

Hours:
Monday to Friday 7:30am to 6:00pm

Physical Therapy Treatment & Services

  • Fall Prevention Programs
  • Manual Physical Therapy
  • Post-Surgical Rehabilitation
  • Pediatric Orthopedic PT
  • Spine Rehabilitation
  • Sports Medicine
  • Trigger Point Dry Needling
  • Work Injury Rehabilitation

Headshot of Armand Larragoite, a physical therapist in Albuquerque, NMArmand Larragoite, PT, DPT, Clinic Director

Armand received his doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2015 from the University of New Mexico. He began working in outpatient physical therapy right after school and is ASTM certified. Armand uses manual therapy in combination with exercise and dry needling level 1 to help return patients to their previous level of function. He enjoys working with all populations especially high school athletes for return to sport and injury prevention. In his free time Armand enjoys competing in CrossFit and camping with his wife and two dogs.

Armada Physical Therapy – Jefferson

Hours:
Monday to Friday 7:30am to 6:00pm

Best Physical Therapy Services

  • Fall Prevention Programs
  • Manual Physical Therapy
  • Post-Surgical Rehabilitation
  • Pediatric Orthopedic PT
  • Spine Rehabilitation
  • Sports Medicine
  • Trigger Point Dry Needling
  • Work Injury Rehabilitation
  • Pelvic Health

Elizabeth Lonergan, PT, DPT, CSCS Clinic Director

Elizabeth has been practicing as an outpatient orthopedic physical therapist since her graduation from the University of New Mexico Doctor of Physical Therapy program in 2015. She is passionate about using her skills in manual therapy and exercise prescription to decrease pain and return patients to the activities they love.

She has always had a special interest in using her skills as a PT to help the women in her community live healthy, active, and pain free lifestyles. This led her to study Pelvic Health with the Herman and Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute. Here she was able to expand her skills as a PT to work specifically with women suffering from pelvic pain, incontinence, and pregnancy-related low back pain. She also received training in Pelvic Floor dry needling. She is excited to offer these services to empower women to achieve limit-free lives without fear or pain.

As a classically trained dancer, Elizabeth also has a particular interest in the treatment of dancers. She has completed training with Marika Molnar, the physical therapy provider for New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet. She has also attended courses with NYU’s Harkness Center for Dance Injuries for dance specific rehabilitation, shoe fitting, and dance nutrition. Elizabeth has had the opportunity to work with many dance companies in Albuquerque and is the premier doctor of physical therapy for Keshet Dance Company and New Mexico Ballet Company.

Outside of work, Elizabeth continues to dance and enjoys spending time with her husband and 3 dogs.

Armada Physical Therapy – Los Lunas

Hours:
Monday to Friday 8:00am to 5:00pm

Physical Therapist Services

  • Fall Prevention Programs
  • Manual Physical Therapy
  • Post-Surgical Rehab Physical Therapy
  • Pediatric Orthopedic PT
  • Spine Rehabilitation
  • Sports Medicine
  • Trigger Point Dry Needling
  • Work Injury Rehabilitation

Meet Our Clinicians

Melody Rattanapote, PT, DPT, Clinic Director

Mel is a native New Mexican, born and raised in Albuquerque. She graduated with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) from Missouri State University before returning to New Mexico to work in outpatient, inpatient, and home health rehab physical therapy settings. Mel has spent her career in the rural communities of Socorro and Valencia counties and has treated many patients from age 0 to 97 with a variety of musculoskeletal and neurological pathologies. She has specialized training in functional dry needling in addition to other familiar evidence-based physical therapy interventions and techniques. Mel prefers individualized treatment sessions and is passionate about patient education and the restoration of function and quality of life. When not in the clinic, Mel spends her time with her furry children and enjoys photography, hiking, road biking, and playing board games.

Mercedes Van Meter, PT, DPT

Mercedes was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona and moved to New Mexico following her admission to the University of New Mexico school of Medicine Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. She loved New Mexico and the beauty it had to offer so much that she decided to stay following her graduation from UNM in 2020. Within the physical therapy realm, she is passionate about sports rehab, healthcare for rural populations, and better understanding biomechanics in order to provide the best care for her patients. Mercedes has treated patients of a variety of ages and conditions and is comfortable working with musculoskeletal and neurological conditions. Her priority is to advocate for each patient and provide them with the individualized care they deserve in a safe and friendly environment. Outside physical therapy, Mercedes loves to horseback ride, hike, exercise, play with her dog, and spend time with friends and family.

Armada Physical Therapy – Menaul

Hours:
Monday to Friday 7:30am to 6:00pm

Services

  • Fall Prevention Programs
  • Manual Physical Therapy
  • Post-Surgical Rehabilitation
  • Pediatric Orthopedic PT
  • Spine Rehabilitation
  • Sports Medicine
  • Trigger Point Dry Needling
  • Work Injury Rehabilitation

K. Violet Gonzagowski, DPT, Clinic Director

Violet earned the professional designation of Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedic physical therapy from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and Doctor of Physical Therapy from the University of New Mexico.

Her practice relies heavily on manual therapy techniques including dry needling, spinal manipulation, cupping, and IASTM.  Violet has completed continuing education to treat vestibular disorders, runners, and a variety of orthopedic conditions.  She is particularly interested in treating foot, ankle, and upper extremity cases.

Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family, three-legged dog, practicing yoga, playing golf, and traveling whenever possible.

Tracy Mechenbier, DPT

Tracy has practiced primarily in the outpatient orthopedic setting and has also continued to work in the inpatient neurological rehab setting, on a PRN basis to keep up her skills. She obtained her B.S. in Exercise Science from the University of New Mexico before attaining her Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy from UNM in 2015. Tracy’s strengths are in constructing creative exercise programs relevant to patient’s lifestyles, as well as performing manual therapy techniques. She currently utilizes dry needling for pain reduction and to address ROM limitations. Prior to working as a physical therapist, Tracy was a personal trainer and soccer coach. She played competitive soccer throughout her youth and into college. Currently she spends her free time staying active with her husband and four young children.

Armada Physical Therapy – Rio Rancho

Hours:
Monday, Wednesday 8:00am to 6:00pm
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 7:30am to 2:30pm

Services

  • Fall Prevention Programs
  • Manual Physical Therapy
  • Post-Surgical Rehabilitation
  • Pediatric Orthopedic PT
  • Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilizations (IASTYM)
  • Spine Rehabilitation
  • Sports Medicine
  • Peri-Neural and Trigger Point Dry Needling
  • Work Injury Rehabilitation

Timothy Serrano, PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, Clinic Director

A California native, Timothy, moved to New Mexico and completed his undergraduate degree from UNM in 2008. He then took time to study Black Mantled Howler monkeys in Costa Rica and Ecuador as a research assistant before earning his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina in 2013. He has since earned several advanced certifications including his Diploma of Osteopractic (2015) from the American Academy of Manipulative Therapy (AAMT) that comprises certifications in Spinal Manipulation (Cert. SMT) and musculoskeletal and peri-neural Dry Needling (Cert. DN). In 2018 he completed an Orthopedic Fellowship accredited with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT) which is a national organization committed to excellence in Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy practice, education and research. During his Fellowship he helped conduct research on cervicogenic headaches (headaches that are caused by the upper neck) with AAMT. As of 2019 he is one of eight with the FAAOMPT distinction in the entire state of New Mexico.  He has  a tremendous passion for helping all patients with any musculoskeletal conditions and works well with patients in targeting and achieving their specific goals for returning and restoring them back to their desired quality of life. When he is not in the clinic, he enjoys playing board games with friends and family, hiking, camping or exploring the outdoors with his dog Rupert.

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