MedicFilter: what are guidelines for car travel after a concussion?
July 19, 2014 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I suffered a concussion 10 days ago and am still feeling some symptoms. Tomorrow I am supposed to be in a car for four or more hours in total. Is this safe? What are the guidelines for being an automobile passenger post-concussion?

More context: my concussion was fairly minor, in that I landed on concrete but chin-first, not with my cranium. I never blacked out. Symptoms arrived 36-48 hours after impact. I've experienced headaches, dizziness, neck pain and nausea to varying degrees.

The past couple of days have been markedly better, but I'm still limited in my activity. I can't watch TV too close to bedtime, or spend too much time in front of any screen or concentrating on letters, numbers, rapid motion, etc. Sleep has been somewhat fitful and I occasionally get tired. Again, much better the past three days than the previous seven, but I'm still symptomatic.

The drive is mostly highway, but who knows what the full day has in store, and I'll be in a car for minimum two hours each way. I've been a passenger for short trips around town without noticeably adverse affects, but never longer than maybe 20 minutes.

I tried searching online for answers, but Google concussion + car and you get lots of advice about concussions resulting from car accidents and driving after being concussed. This is neither. I emailed my internist who replied with a simple "should be OK," which didn't inspire much confidence, so I'm turning to the hive mind for perspective.

(Posting anonymously because I'm not completely sure of the ramifications of having a concussion on the public record, or sharing a doctor-patient email in this context.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I don't understand why being a non-driving passenger would be cause for concern, unless you are asking about motion sickness being more acute in this situation, which is something I think you should prepare for. I don't think it will actively HARM you to be a passenger in a car for a few hours. Can you just put the seat back, close your eyes, and try to sleep?
posted by elizardbits at 7:23 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I traveled 1,000 miles as a passenger in a car 7 days after sustaining a mild-to-medium concussion. I was pretty out of it, but didn't notice any bad effects. Frequent breaks, lots of water and, in my case, muscle relaxants were key.
posted by mynameisluka at 7:42 AM on July 19, 2014

Completely non medical advice. avoid overtaxing your visual cortex. So if you do travel perhaps bring audio books then rest as much as you can rather than scenery watching (and yeah, ask your actual doctor)
posted by edgeways at 8:25 AM on July 19, 2014

Each case is unique, but my post concussion symptoms were aggravated by car travel - driving was prohibited by my physician but driving as a passenger was also problematic. This had to do with sensory load: sound, movement of not just our car but all cars on the road, signals/signs, lights, etc. My physician recommended that I wear sunglasses and that helped filter as did earplugs. Are you driving during day or night? Busy highway or quiet road? Etc. If sensory input leads to symptoms for you, you may want to consider taking some filtering measures.
posted by beanie at 8:31 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not a doctor, but I do research mild brain injuries. Concussion recovery is very poorly understood and there is very little advice anyone can give you that has any basis in evidence. You can't find a clear answer to this because there isn't one (yet).

That said, if I were you I'd wear a sleep mask in the car and either try to sleep or listen to relaxing music during the drive.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:42 AM on July 19, 2014

In addition to the suggestions above about reducing sensory load, I would bring an assortment of pillows and make a sort of nest in the corner of the seat/door to lean your head against. It seems to me that reducing the vibrations from the car itself would be a good way to treat your head, and that the pillows would be good to absorb those vibrations without transferring them to you. It's hard to tell which exact pillow would work, so having several to choose from would increase your chances of getting the right one.
posted by CathyG at 9:11 AM on July 19, 2014

Just dropping this here again -- a closed FB group for Post Concussion Syndrome (P.C.S & P.P.C.S) Awareness Worldwide. There are frequent discussions about individual experiences like this and how people have handled them. Your Brain Health is another good FB page, but more general.

I would myself just go with what's been said -- try to reduce sensory input if possible. I am not really motion-sickness sensitive, so I could probably use a sleep mask and lie down in the car, and definitely ear plugs would be considered. Drugs, definitely. The social aspects of car travel might be as problematic as the motion itself and other sensory inputs, so make sure your car-mates understand that you're best off just checking out. It does sound like you're already sensitive to your need to manage this, though, so that's good.

I had about six months before I felt symptom free, FWIW, which sounds roughly like the median, barring the development of persistent PCS.
posted by dhartung at 12:07 PM on July 19, 2014

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