Get answers to our patients’ most frequently asked questions about concussions.
A concussion is a medical diagnosis that is caused by a sudden force to the head or body (that is then transmitted to the head), such as a bump, blow, or jolt.
Our brains are surrounded by a layer of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that generally prevents it from shifting in your skull. However, when a sudden force is applied to your head or body, the weight and momentum of your brain can cause it to temporarily displace the CSF, causing the brain to impact the inside of your skull. This impact causes a concussion injury. Medical professionals also refer to concussions as a "mild traumatic brain injury," or "mTBI."
A concussion injury can temporarily alter the way your brain functions, and may cause mood swings, headaches, or lapses in memory, judgment, concentration, balance, or coordination. Concussions can occur with or without a loss of consciousness, and symptoms may last for a few weeks or months.
Like any other injury, a concussion needs time and rest to heal.
Science is still learning about the long-term effects, but concussions are usually not life-threatening if treated properly.
Concussions become dangerous when they are not treated, or when a person experiences multiple concussions. Recent research has connected the deaths of many pro football players and other athletes that have been found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) (a disease that causes degeneration of the brain) only found at autopsy. Though science is still learning about CTE, this disease is most likely caused by multiple, repeated concussions — a problem that is preventable through the application of immediate removal from play, proper sports concussion protocols and management.
Second impact syndrome (SIS) is another life-threatening condition relating to concussions, though extremely rare. SIS occurs when a concussed brain receives a second concussion before the first one has healed (healing can range anywhere from minutes to weeks after the first concussion), causing a rapid swelling of the brain. This limits blood flow and can cause cerebral edema (fluid in the brain) and brain herniation (squeezing of the brain). (Source: National Institutes of Health)
Most recover within one to two weeks following a concussion and best treatment in most cases is rest and recovery as prescribed by a doctor trained in the management of concussions.
The first and most important thing is to stop. Sit down, and tell a parent, teammate, coach, or athletic trainer immediately. If you can't seem to think, ask a teammate to convey that you must be taken out of the game.
Once out of play, seek immediate medical attention from a doctor with experience in concussion management.
Common concussion symptoms
- Balance problems/dizziness
- Feeling foggy
- Fuzzy vision
- Loss of consciousness
- Problems concentrating
- Sensitivity to light
- Worsening symptoms
Common signs of a concussion
- Abnormal fatigue
- Appears dazed
- Difficulty paying attention
- Difficulty remembering
- Mood, behavior, or personality changes
- Repeated vomiting
- Slow reaction time
- Trouble recalling facts surrounding incident
No. A concussion could involve an alteration in consciousness, or loss of consciousness. If a prolonged loss of consciousness does occur, it is very important that the injured person be taken to an emergency room as soon as possible. Likewise, youth athletes must be taken out of play immediately, regardless of their conscious state.
Depending on the severity of your concussion, your doctor might request student academic accommodations — meaning that your school/teacher provide a reduced workload, extra time for tests, and deadline extensions to assist student in letting their brain recover.
Once you are asymptomatic (meaning that all your symptoms are gone), your doctor will advise you to begin the "gradual return to play" process. However, if any symptoms re-appear during this process, stop playing immediately, consult your athletic trainer and physician, and restart the recovery protocol.
You should stay out of play as long as your doctor recommends. You should complete the "gradual return to play" checklist without any symptoms. In cases of more severe concussions where symptoms can last for weeks or months you should be monitored by your physician. Every concussive event is different, even for the same person.
Immediately following the injury – depending on severity – a trip to the emergency room can rule out any life-threatening injuries.
Afterwards, you should see a doctor trained in the management of athletic concussions for a checkup, and follow concussion recovery protocols until symptoms have disappeared. Once asymptomatic, the athlete should follow up with a doctor with experience in concussion management in order to get cleared for gradual return to play.
An estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year (Source: CDC). Recent research suggests that this number is significantly higher due to underreporting of injuries, though recent reporting has increased exponentially.
Research published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that females are twice as much at risk for concussions because of underdeveloped neck musculature. For high school sports, football has the most concussions reported at 40.5 percent, followed by girls' soccer (21.5 percent) and boys' soccer (15.4 percent).
As of January 30, 2014, all 50 states and Washington, D.C. have passed youth sports concussion related legislation, known as “Return to Play” laws. Florida’s legislation requires immediate removal from practice or competition for a suspected concussion and written medical clearance to return to playing sports.
Your treatment plan must also comply with the legislation in your state and the requirements of your respective organization. Most organized sports governing bodies also have their own concussion policies and regulations. These organizations include state high school athletic associations, clubs, leagues, and park organizations.