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What Is a Concussion?

Save the Brain
Studies show that 5 to 10 percent of athletes will experience a concussion during any given sports season. Despite these numbers, concussions remain largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed. For example:
  • Most concussions occur without loss of consciousness.
  • Athletes who have had a concussion at any point in their lives have an increased risk for another concussion.
  • Young children and teens are more likely to get a concussion and take longer to recover than adults.
Concussions are the most common sports-related brain injury among those ages 15-24.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that causes an alteration in brain function.

During a concussion, rotation or shaking of the brain occurs that causes tiny areas of damage throughout the brain. This causes a release of chemicals in the brain that can lead to worsening symptoms over the following three days. Imaging studies such as CT scans and MRIs can be normal initially; however, many different areas of the brain may still be affected.

Concussions can occur from many different types of injuries, both on and off the playing field. While bumping your head on something can cause a concussion, a collision is not needed to create this damage. Rotational and whiplash injuries are other common causes of concussion.

Football is the sport with the most reported concussions; however, sports such as hockey, soccer and lacrosse also have high rates of concussion. Additionally, activities such as rock climbing and horseback riding, as well as car accidents, are common causes of concussion injuries.

What happens during a concussion?

What are the signs and symptoms of concussion?

Concussion symptoms Signs observed by bystanders (usually parents or coaches):
  • Appears dazed or stunned.
  • Is confused about events.
  • Answers questions slowly.
  • Repeats questions.
  • Can’t recall events after the hit, bump or fall.
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly).
  • Shows behavior or personality changes.
  • Forgets class schedule or assignments.
  • May be uncharacteristically irritable, sad or nervous.
  • Tends to be more emotional than usual.
Symptoms reported by the athlete or injured individual:
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Feeing more “slowed down”
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy
  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or feeling tired
  • Uncoordinated, dizzy
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating on a skill or task
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Does not “feel right”
Some symptoms can be an indication that a more severe traumatic brain injury occurred. If any of these symptoms are present, the athlete should be evaluated by a qualified medical or emergency professional without delay:
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe or increasing neck pain
  • Increasing confusion
  • Increasing irritability
  • Vomiting, seizure
  • Weakness in arms or legs
  • Tingling or burning in arms or legs
  • Decreasing level of consciousness
  • Severe or increasing headache
  • Unusual behavior change
  • Double vision
  • One pupil larger than the other

When in Doubt, Take Them Out!

If you think you or your child has had a concussion, you should see a licensed health care professional within 72 hours. A licensed health care professional is a registered, licensed, certified or otherwise statutorily recognized health care professional whose training includes the evaluation and management of concussions consistent with current medical knowledge. Examples include:
  • Athletic trainers
  • School nurses
  • Urgent care providers
  • Emergency room providers
  • Primary care providers
  • Providers at the concussion clinic
Before returning to athletic activity, an athlete should be symptom-free, able to tolerate a full day of work/school and cleared by a licensed health care professional. To learn more about concussions and proper management, watch our concussion education video and consult these helpful resources.