Sports Medicine

An Introduction to Concussions

August 23, 2017
Lisa Moore, ATC


An Introduction to Concussions

Inevitably the start of fall football begins the start of concussion conversations. What is a concussion? How do they happen? How many can you have in a lifetime? What are the long term effects of a concussion? Is football safe?

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that disrupts brain function. Clear as mud right? Concussions can come from a blow to the head, or contact with the ground, or any force that basically jars the head and brain. We like to refer to concussions as having a constellation of symptoms. There are 22 symptoms associated with concussions and they don’t all need to be present for the diagnosis of concussion. In fact, they can occur in any combination and affect every person different which is why they can be such a hard condition to diagnose and treat. Not every concussion will look the same, or last the same amount of time for recovery either.

When a person sustains a concussion, they will usually present to their medical professional with several symptoms that they are experiencing. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Headache Dizziness
  • “Pressure in head”
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Neck Pain
  • Blurred Vision
  • Balance Problems
  • Sensitive to light or noise
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Feel like “In a fog”
  • “Don’t feel right”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty Remembering
  • Fatigue or low energy Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble Falling asleep
  • More emotional Irritability
  • Sadness Nervous/Anxious

Any combination of these can indicate a concussion. In addition cognitive function is assessed and the patient is evaluated for any other possible concerns as well. As athletic trainers we tend to rely on two different tools to help us assess for a concussion. There is a SCAT5 which is a sport concussion assessment tool, version 5, that is a paper and pencil test that scores symptoms, tests cognitive function, balance, and reaction time. The other tool we use is the ImPACT test which is a computerized test that is given at the beginning of the year to assess the athlete’s “normal” and then again once they are suspected of having a concussion. This also uses a variety of tests to assess cognitive function and athletes self report their symptoms as well.

Concussions need to be taken seriously. If an athlete returns to activity while still symptomatic and receives another blow to the head they can sustain Second Impact Syndrome which has a 50% mortality rate. Long term effects from concussion include CTE, anxiety, depression, migraines, sleep disorders and even death. It’s important that concussions are evaluated and treated by healthcare professionals if you suspect you or your child has sustained one.

Each year between 2.5 and 4 million athletes will sustain a concussion. Concussion symptoms can last anywhere from 24 hours to months and it’s important that each case is treated appropriately and all aspects of healthcare are managed in order to help the brain heal as quickly as possible. Eliminating screen time, loud noises, artificial lighting and brain stimulation in the first few days can really help the brain heal. Just like an ankle needs rest after injury, so does the brain! In the following weeks we will be talking about returning the student to school after a concussions and modifications the school can make; as well as how we return athletes to competition so they can be treated as safely as possible!

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