Post-concussion syndrome is a condition that is typically associated with a head injury. At first, it may look like a concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury, but this may be worse with people who had previous concussions or head trauma. In today’s episode, host Dr. Kevin Pecca brings on Steve Prokop as he shares the story of his post-concussion syndrome recovery from ice hockey and getting back to a healthy shape.
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Recovering From Post-Concussion Syndrome With Steve Prokop
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We have a special episode. We have one of my patients, Steve Prokop. He has an inspiring post-concussion recovery story. As you know, these are my favorite stories. It is the reason why I became an upper cervical chiropractor. I myself recovered from post-concussion syndrome. He has a phenomenal post-concussion syndrome recovery from ice hockey. I love hearing these stories because it is entirely possible to heal from post-concussion syndrome.
If you know anybody that is going through PCS and had dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, or other post-concussion syndrome symptoms, please share this episode with them. There is not a lot of information on people recovering from this, and it helps boost people's morale and gives them hope that they can recover through upper cervical care. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.
We have a very special guest, Steve Prokop. He is one of my patients. He has an amazing recovery story from post-concussion syndrome that we are going to share in a little bit. This episode is sponsored by Setex. It is a tech company that makes patented gripping products. Their gripping technology has been developed for several years of academic research at Carnegie Mellon University to understand and mimic the microstructures called on setae on gecko’s feet.
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All these products can be found at www.SetexGrip.com and Amazon. Be sure to follow them on social media to stay up to date with their newest products. As I said, we have one of my favorite patients, Steve Prokop. He has been doing phenomenal under upper cervical care. I'm excited for him to share his healing journey because he has suffered from it for a long time and he came out the other side. It is a pleasure to have him on the show. Steve, how are you?
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. I agree with that long journey. I know I wanted to do this at some point.
Where are you from?
I'm from Florham Park, New Jersey.
What were you into growing up?
I was similar to you. The biggest thing for me was ice hockey. That is all I played growing up. I had played for twelve years and traveled all over the Northeast. I enjoyed that competitiveness, and things happened in high school which started this whole journey. Ice hockey was the biggest thing.
How old were you when your incident happened, and what happened?
This all started when I was fifteen years old. I went to St. Peter's Prep for high school. It has good education there and also has a pretty good hockey program. It has the best of both worlds.
Are you a freshman in high school at this point?
At this point, I was a freshman in high school, and I was not like any superstar or anything. I just played JV in my first year. In the last game of the season we played, we went down the shore to play Christian Brothers Academy, CBA. Most of our team were freshmen because we were young. Their team has a good program so they had a lot of older, bigger kids on their team. Back then, I was probably 150, 5’8”, not what I am now.
I remember we were down by one. I went into the corner, and it happened to be one of those pops in the corner. I also skated pretty lazily. I was lazy back then. I went in, and this kid came in behind and steamrolled me. I went completely headfirst into the boards and it was like a loud bang. Everybody in the rink was like, “That is bad.” I'm sure I blacked out for a few seconds. I was not unconscious, but I was on the ground.
Did you go neck first into the boards?
Yes. Thinking about it now, I remember hearing something going on up there when that happened. I thought he was like, “I didn't think anything of it.” That started a huge fight. As soon as that happened, both teams started fighting. I'm grateful for the CBA trainer. He came running out and attended to me right away.
Were you able to move? Did you think you were paralyzed or anything?
I don't remember what happened. I was able to move my fingers and toes right away. I knew that it was not anything bad, but the CBA trainer, we did not have one because we traveled, was good. Props to them, and he came running out to make sure I was okay. He did all those tests and everything. He skated me off the ice. This is the one thing I will never forget other than that hit. As I was skating off the kid who hit me, I came to forgive him and move on. The kid who hit me says to me, “Sorry, buddy.” Little did I know I was going to start a whole five-year journey of everything I was going to be talking about.
What symptoms did you notice after the hit?
After the hit, I knew I had a concussion because when I went into the locker room, I was looking at the lights and that hurt. I hear noise, and that hurts. I had normal concussion symptoms and low back pain, which was my main symptom. Other than soreness, I never had this kind of pain. That did not come until after a couple of months of going through the concussion. It was not that bad of a concussion. I went through the protocol for a month and got cleared.
Did you have blurry vision, brain fog, headaches, or anything like that?
Headache and brain fog. For the first week, I did not watch TV or anything to let everything rest. When I went back to school, it was tough to do the math and stuff like that.
What doctor did you see first? What was your protocol after you got hit? Where did you go?
I went to the hospital down the shore, and they said I had a concussion. I followed the high school protocol with the trainer there because they know what they are doing. Other than the first week, it was an easy recovery to get over the concussion because all I had to do was rest and do my thing. After several months, I was solid.
did the debilitating low back pain hit?
After I got cleared from my concussion, I was like, “Let's play some spring hockey. I get back to it.” I started playing spring a little leave once a week. The first time I noticed a low back pain, I bent down to tie my skates. I was like, “What is that?” It was an insane pain but was no soreness. I do not even know how to explain it. It was this excruciating pain that was not going away. I was like, “Maybe if I skate a little bit, it will go away.” That entire season, every week, it was still there, and I did not know what it was. It was frustrating.
Were you able to skate and play or did it hinder your performance out there?
I was able to skate and play. I feel like it hindered my performance to be at my peak. I was able to play and be fine, but I was not able to play my hardest because if I tried hard, it hurt. I was like, “I can be average, but I am not going to try hard if it hurts.” That spring is when the back pain started, and that is probably the biggest symptom I have had throughout these several years.
What did you do first for the low back pain?
The summer after freshman year, moving into sophomore year, I relate it to atlas. I did not do anything because I did not know anything. The first thing I did was go to the regular chiropractor. I tried everything in the book, similar to you, like acupuncture, acupressure, massages, icy hot, and nothing was doing it. That summer after freshman year, nothing was doing it.
I went into sophomore year, and I played JV again. I remember coming off the ice after practice crying because it hurts too bad, like, “I can't do this anymore. This is ridiculous.” I ended up quitting the rest of the season. It was tough because I was playing 80 games a season for a full year, plus JV. It does a lot to your body. It was hard to keep up with that and also deal with this, so I ended up quitting for a couple of months. The end of sophomore year was when I finally found Atlas Orthogonal. I'm going to talk about Jason first because he is a great guy and a great trainer. He was the one who introduced me to that.
You said there is something that might be wrong in your upper neck that could be affecting your low back. How did that even makes sense?
Before I saw him, I saw Matt McGowan. He is a great chiropractor. He was good at analyzing my body. He was like, “This is a little messed up. I'm going to work on it, do these, and you will be good.” The problem was I was coming back every time, and I was not looking any better. I came in hunched over every time, and he was confused because he was good.
He referred me to Jason, and he was like, “Maybe start working with Jason, start working out, build some muscle. That will help.” I'm like, “All right.” I go to Jason. We start working out, and he is a good trainer. 3 or 4 times, he looked at me, and then at the fourth session, he was like, “Come here for a sec.” He was looking at my neck, back, hips, and balance. He was like, “It looks like your atlas is off. I think you should go see this chiropractor, which was an atlas orthogonist.” I did not know what that was. At that time, that was the tenth recommendation I had received.
You have probably seen many doctors at this point.
I remember when he said that, I was like, “Whatever.” I looked into it and he convinced me. He was like, “Do it. Trust me.” I was like, “Alright.” I gave it a shot. I went there and got some X-rays on the atlas. I was educated by them. They told me everything. I was like, “What is this? I did not know anything about it.” I moved into the first treatment if you want to get into that with them.
Did it help your low back symptoms?
For the first year, it helped a decent amount because I was out of alignment for so long. I remember when I first got adjusted, the pain went away, but not fully. I still had soreness because my body was adjusting to going back to normal. The excruciating pain was debilitating for weeks. For a year, I was able to go to that orthogonist. I go every few months and get it put back in. It was not necessarily holding for too long, but longer than not holding at all.
For a year, that was good, and that gave me the confidence to move back into hockey. I was like, “I'm doing well. Let's play some hockey again. I love it.” In junior year, I went and played varsity. I get a little bigger and stuff like that. I see this orthogonist while I'm playing varsity. It became a habit of where I would go and play. It was a tough conference and everything. I would go, play, and get knocked out.
Throughout those several years, I would go once a week to get it put back in, and the mental state of that was tough. You think you are getting better, but you have to go back every time to feel a bit better. That was probably the toughest part because knowing that something was only temporary and it was also tough dealing with, not that people did not believe me that I had back pain, headaches, or anything, because they did.
It is dealing with people, coaches, friends, and other teammates because they have never been through something like we have been through this. It is hard for them to understand. The way I see it is when someone breaks their arm and you see them in a cast. They need to rest and heal up for a couple of months.
There is a dedicated timeline. You get cast for 4 to 6 weeks and you will be good.
For this, it is like, “I'm in low back pain. I can still walk and do everything I need to do to live a life, but I am in pain all the time. No one sees it because I do not need to be in a cast or anything.”
You are sixteen years old. It is like, “What sixteen-year-old has such crippling low back pain?” It is almost unbelievable.
The amount of times I have said to my friends and parents something like, “My back hurts.” They will probably have $1 billion if I gave them a quarter every time I did it. It is something that I have learned to deal with. Those last several years started moving to orthogonal every week. That mentally was tough because I felt like I was not moving forward. I was staying still.
Moving on to college, I decided not to play hockey in college. Not that I was going to play division, but even club because I did not want to deal with that mentally. I went to college in LA and I ended up finding another orthogonist out there to make sure I was good. The summer after senior year, once I stopped playing hockey, I was holding well because I was not doing much. I am hanging out and getting ready for college. I was fine for a little, and then something happened and something small came out.
I got to go see someone else out there that was referred. She is also great too but taking Uber is expensive and I am paying for it. It was time-consuming, especially if you are not from the area. That was tough. That entire year I was going to her. It helped that a little bit, and moving forward, it was not until the summer after my freshman year that I started my sophomore year. I'm sure it was when I started to see you.
I remember the first day and I adjusted you the same day you came in. I was looking at your X-rays. I think Dr. Jeff was there. I was like, “This is the biggest atlas misalignment on both sides I have ever seen.” I came out of the waiting room and told you that. I was excited because I knew we could help. From that hit, your atlas was far forward on both sides. It was pulling your entire body forward and putting an incredible amount of pressure on your low back. It was insane.
I always wondered if I would go back to playing, getting hit over again, and getting adjusted, I don't know the number of adjustments that can affect it. I remember what you told me. I was like, “I know. That is why I’m in pain.”
What was it like being under Blair Upper Cervical? What did you notice? What was that healing process like?
That was not as long as you know the other, but it is good. I know the first day I came into you, you could see it in my face like I was defeated. Everything I told you, I was like, “This sucks. I hate it.” It was nice because I was a little educated going into you. I knew it was not going to be like, “One adjustment is going to be a fix like I thought before.” I knew that it was not going to be like that.
Did you get relief after your first adjustment, or did it take a little bit?
Similar to the other situation, I got relief. Honestly, it was not even as sore as it was as the first time I got adjusted because I have been adjusted before, but I know this is a different technique. It felt a bit different, and it felt better. I remember walking out and I was like, “That feels good.” I remember feeling good.
The healing journey then starts. A lot of people do have great first adjustments, and I know a lot of people see some of our videos. They think it is a one-and-done fix, you are healed, and you never have to come back. That is certainly not the case. You can have a great first adjustment and feel great, but there is a healing process with ups and downs. Go through that with you, Steve, because I know you had a great first adjustment. What was the healing process like for you?
I can't speak for everybody, but for me, it was a rollercoaster because I have been dealing with this for a couple of years. I have developed a discipline to take care of my body and myself. I remember when I got adjusted, I was like, “I am going to make sure they are going to work out for a little. I am going not to do anything crazy.”
It still was coming out. The most frustrating part is when you do nothing and it still comes out. The way your body has to adjust to the way it is changing is what I think. Maybe someone could hold after the first adjustment for a long time, but your body still has to adjust to the idea of this has not been this in a long time. Let me get used to it.
It takes time for postural changes because if your neck is stuck for 5, 6, 10, to 15 years, your body is going to need to bring it back and keep it there. It does get better. Your body tries to pull it back and it is not going to let it. It is a little bit of a tug-of-war for the first 2 to 3 months as your body wants to bring it back, and it is not used to it, so it tries to go back. It is fighting each other for a little bit, but it usually takes about 3 or 4 months for the spine to stabilize and be where it needs to be.
For me, what I got to do to get it to sink in and hold was to go through a certain period of focusing on myself. I went with you for a year, and I was getting great adjustments, but I was not necessarily taking care of myself the best way. I was going to school in college. I am drinking every now and then and I am getting a lot of stress.
Everyone has stress in life, but it was hard because I did not want to limit myself from everything. I also wanted to make sure I was okay. It was a hard balance. This past year, I came home from school early because I got into that cycle again of it coming out all the time every week. I was like, “This is ridiculous.” It is the worst feeling.
You came back from California and were defeated again. I was like, “Steve, what is going on?”
You already know what is going on. I am sure Jeff was the one who adjusted me when I first came back.
*That adjustment might still be holding.
Yes, it is.
What month was that?
It is the beginning of November 2021.
Dr. Jeff gave you that adjustment, and it is still holding strong.
He has got some magic hands. I came back and got adjusted. I left the office that day. I'm doing classes virtually, but I have a lot of time to focus on myself. I was just focusing on this and doing what I needed to do. For two whole months, which was my period, I stayed healthy for walks and little things like that. I did not work out, drink, or do anything to stress the body. I let my whole body decompress with everything that was going on and let it all sink in. That helped. I focused on myself, meditating and little things like that.
I did the exact same thing. I was getting adjusted a lot when I first started to care, and I was like, “I need to do something personally also.” I stopped lifting heavy weights for several months. I went for walks and light jogs to help everything mold around my neck. I waited a certain amount of time, and I started going back to the gym. I could finally do it and eventually could lift more because everything was back in alignment and balanced.
Every month and day makes you more confident. I am not saying go like a rollercoaster or anything. I am probably never going to do that again. When it comes to lifting, in the beginning, I was afraid to do a bicep curl. I was like, “I do not want to mess it up.” Now I can do them properly and be okay. After those first several months, I was still paranoid to go back to working out. I did not rush back into it like I used to do. I hit up Jason again because he is a trainer, and he was good with me. He has the same atlas issue. He knows what exercises to do that help and what exercise is not to do that makes it worse in the beginning. I am grateful for him.
A key role in your recovery is being educated on how to get back into the working out.
I am no expert, and I consider him an expert. He would be like, “Don't do that. That is not good for you.” I would go to the gym and do the lifting. For several months, I worked out with him a couple of times a week. It is fun. We have a great friendship. Finally, at a certain point, It had been 3 or 4 months, I told him, “I'm ready to start working out myself. You can send me workouts, and I will make sure I do them right.” That was when I started going back to the gym myself and doing certain things. Eventually, I started to get back into the cold workouts I used to do in high school with hockey and making sure I did things right, slow, and not doing anything crazy.
You got back on the ice in the winter of 2021.
Over time I was able to get back into more things I like. I was able to skate a few times. I will never play physically or competitively again because I don't want to have to deal with that, but I was able to skate, have fun with my friends, pass, shoot, skate around and not have any issues.
You would be surprised. You are still fairly early into care. You are going to still do some good healing several years in. I never thought I was ever going to be able to work out, surf, or play hockey again. I'm doing jujitsu now with Jason. That is all neck. Jason choked me out seven times. I never thought I was ever going to be able to do that again. In the first 4 to 8 months of care, it was not happening, but my neck has gotten so much stronger over the years that it is the strongest it has ever been. I am grateful for that, but do not count yourself out yet. You can get back into everything you used to love.
The way I should look at it now is not the beginning of recovery, but I have been seeing it as, “This is the best I will get.” That is great to hear. I did not know that. That is cool.
I waited a year and a half to go surfing again. I went with small waves and worked my way up. It was a huge question mark. I was like, “Will I ever be able to do this again?” If you take the time to heal and have that adjustment hold for a long time, your confidence grows where you are going to get to a certain point where it has been holding for so long. You are like, “Let's do it.” You would be surprised how strong your body is.
I have a quick question for you. I do not know if you probably have not experienced this in a while, but in the beginning, I would get paranoid about the littlest thing that would make it come out. Were you ever like me in that situation?
Anytime I go to the gym, if I did one exercise and I thought it went out, I would do those turtle exercises and check if everything is going back. Remember you came in, and you were like, “My back is hurting a little bit, but it does not feel like I am out.” You are going to start to know that it is not always your neck. When your neck holds, something else can go in place. You do a little acupressure or a low back adjustment or something. It pops right back in, and you are back on track. When your neck starts to hold for a long time, you can get little aches and pains in other parts of your body. You put it right back in, and you are good to go.
The first few years of treatment when I was not with you, I knew when it was out every time. Now I don't know that is good.
Sometimes, it can get stuck, not out. I went surfing one time, and a wave went over my head. I came out the other side, and if the atlas moved out, it was halfway where I could feel it. I was like, “It is not out, but it is stuck.” For two weeks, I was pressing on this area because I got checked, and it was not out. One day, I went to go way down on the pillow, put my head on the pillow, it clicked back in, and I was good. There are wild things like that that can happen.
You got checked, and did they say it was stuck?
They could not tell if it is. I felt it right here. I was like, “It does not usually feel like it is out, but it is not in. It was halfway.” When I put my head on the pillow one night, it clicked back in, and my whole body relaxed. I do a lot of acupuncture. I get checked by Dr. Jeff. He will do some midback, low back adjustments on me every now and then to make sure this holds for a long time. I do things to keep everything in check like you are doing now.
One thing I do want to mention is you are talking about the pillow that having a good pillow helps, especially in the beginning. Someone recommended me. I use a water pillow. I brought it in for you to look at one time.
Bring that in again because you have been talking about that a lot, and I would like to see that.
That has been good. With the orthogonist, I filled it up with enough water to where he could measure and make sure when I am laying on it properly, my neck is aligned with everything down here. It is good to have good posture, but if you have a pillow that is too thin, you are going to be sleeping like this, and a pillow that is too thick, you are going to be sleeping like that. For guys like us, that is not good.
You want to keep that nice and neutral while you are sleeping. Steve, what is your quality of life now? What do you get going on in the near future?
The quality of life is much better than it used to be. I am a lot happier with this treatment. I am moving forward with everything. I get checked up every once in a while, but that is for me to make sure I am okay. I am doing a lot better. I am able to move on to things that I enjoy. Hopefully, I can do even more things after a couple of years. I am a lot better and happier. It has helped my mental state overall in the past few years.
Do you ever think about going to chiropractic school and becoming an upper cervical guy?
Honestly, I did. I have to start credits over and stuff. It might take a while.
**I was the same way. I was like, “There is no way I can do all that schooling.” I would do it, honestly.
You got a great story, and you would be good at it. It completely turned your life around, and you could help others do the same thing. It is something to think about.
I honestly will. That sounds cool. I would enjoy that.
Steve, at the end of all the shows, I like to ask all my guests, what is one piece of advice that you would like to gift the readers? It could be anything.
The first piece is to be patient with everything. It will never be an adjustment, and you are 100% good. You got to be patient and go through the process. It will be hard, but it is only going to get easier if you take care of yourself. I would also say know that you are not alone. There are so many people that deal with this. Every chiropractor does this. When I first started dealing with it, I thought I was the only person in the world that had this issue. I was like, “It is rare. This is awful.” As I started to meet you, other chiropractors, and even people in the office, knowing that other people were going through the same thing. Every chiropractor I have been to that works with the atlas says, “I have been there. I know what you are feeling.” It is nice to hear.
The last thing I would say is I have started to look at this whole journey for me. It knows that it has made me unique to who I am as a person. I do not know where I would be or what I would be doing if I did not go through all these experiences because it taught me how to be disciplined with my health and my body and how to be emotional about certain things, and care about eating well, working out, and stuff like that. I am not saying I would be in a bad place, but this whole experience and journey taught me a lot about the person I want to be and the person I am now.
When you go through something like you did, coming out the other side puts into perspective what is important in life. You have been through the wringer, and now you feel good again. Life is a beautiful thing. It is a blessing to have your health. It is the only thing we have. When you have something like that and when you go through that at such a young age, it is a great lesson to go through in life because you have such a different perspective on life. You are grateful for little things like waking up and feeling good. You were like, “That is a good day.”
Especially when you go back to working out, it is even better. I lifted, and I felt great.
Steve, you got your whole life ahead of you. I am excited for you. You are going to do big things. Thanks for putting us in contact with Setex. I got the nose pads on now. These things are not slipping off. They are not going anywhere.
I love Setex. They got great products. I got the earbud grips on my wireless headphones. Those are on fire.
Tell them about your gaming situation.
I have been using the grips and I have not been sweating. Sometimes I sweat like in Warzone, but I have not been. The grip is definitely working out.
The grips are keeping the controller in hand. Thank you, Setex. Everybody, thank you so much for reading. Steve, thank you so much for coming on. I would love to have you back anytime.
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