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Fatigue is a common symptom during concussion recovery. Fatigue can make it harder for you to do everything you would like to do. It can also make your other symptoms worse, such as making noises and lights extra bothersome.
Even just your normal day to day activities can leave you feeling drained. Both physical and mental exertion can make you feel tired.
Mental and Physical Fatigue
Cognitive (or mental) fatigue means not having the energy to concentrate on a task, or think things through. When you experience cognitive fatigue, you may find a mental task that was manageable is now more challenging and frustrating.
You may also feel tired after a period of physical exertion. This is often a feeling of muscle weakness which reduces your ability to physically perform the way you would like to. Sometimes, this is associated with muscle soreness, which adds to your discomfort.
Talk to your family doctor if you are experiencing a lot of daytime sleepiness (struggle to keep your eyes open and stay awake) in the weeks or months following a concussion. Daytime sleepiness may be a sign for a different kind of problem.
Strategies to Manage Fatigue
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to manage your fatigue. For example, taking brain breaks, pacing, planning and prioritizing your work.
A very useful strategy is to use a day-planner, calendar or notebook (paper or electronic) to plan your activities and track patterns in your fatigue.
Plan your most demanding activities for a time of day that you have the most energy. Remember to use pacing strategies during these periods of time. Avoid staying busy without taking breaks, or rushing through tasks during this window of time. Doing so can increase the chance of you getting pushed into feeling fatigued and be forced to rest.
Setting meaningful goals and tracking overall activities can help you take control over your fatigue and recognize improvements over time.
You can find more information and tips in the Pacing article and the Brain Breaks article.
Fatigue and Other Aspects of Health
In addition to the concussion itself, fatigue can be influenced by a number of other factors following your injury. Fatigue can be related to certain medications, poor sleep, pain, physical deconditioning or psychological factors, including increased stress and depression. Fatigue can also influence motivation.
Getting adequate sleep at night time and incorporating stress management are important for fatigue management.
When to Get More Help
If fatigue is not improving as expected, speak with your family doctor.
Some medications can cause fatigue, so your family doctor may complete a review of medications, or do further assessments to rule out other contributing causes.
You may wish to review this helpful guide [pdf] from the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation (ONF)