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A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. The brain bumps into the interior wall of the skull where it is hit, as well as the point opposite of impact.

Concussions also can result from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. Health care professionals may describe a concussion as a “mild” brain injury, because concussions are usually not life-threatening. Even so, their effects can be serious, especially in repeated concussions, because they can affect how the brain works. 

Signs and Symptoms of Concussion

Athletes who experience one or more of the signs and symptoms listed below after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body may have a concussion.

Signs Observed by Coaching Staff Symptoms Reported by Athlete
Appears dazed or stunned Headache or “pressure” in head
Is confused about assignment or position Nausea or vomiting
Forgets an instruction Balance problems or dizziness
Is unsure of game, score, or opponent Double or blurry vision
Moves clumsily Sensitivity to light
Answers questions slowly Sensitivity to noise
Loses consciousness (even briefly) Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes Concentration or memory problems
Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall Confusion
Can’t recall events after hit or fall Just not “feeling right” or is “feeling down”

Concussion Symptoms May be Delayed

Not all people with a concussion lose consciousness. Some concussion symptoms may appear right away, while others may not be noticed for days or even months after the injury. That's why the signs and symptoms of a concussion may be missed initially by the person with the concussion, family members or a doctor. People may look fine even though they are acting or feeling differently. It is important to contact a physician if you recognize concussion signs and symptoms. 

Resuming daily activities may make the signs of concussion more apparent. Some people who have had a concussion find it more difficult to deal with school and work demands, get along with everyone at home, or simply to relax. Sometimes, people are not aware of or will not admit they are having problems. Others may not understand why they are having difficulties, which can make them frustrated.

Concussion in Sports: 4-step Action Plan

If you suspect that an athlete has a concussion, implement your 4-step action plan:

  1. Remove the athlete from play. Look for signs and symptoms of a concussion if your athlete has experienced a bump or blow to the head or body. When in doubt, keep the athlete out of play.

  2. Ensure that the athlete is evaluated by a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussion. Do not try to judge the severity of the injury yourself. Health care professionals have a number of methods that they can use to assess the severity of concussions. As a coach, recording the following information can help health care professionals in assessing the athlete after the injury:

    • Cause of the injury and force of the hit or blow to the head or body
    • Any loss of consciousness (passed out/knocked out) and if so, for how long
    • Any memory loss immediately following the injury
    • Any seizures immediately following the injury
    • Number of previous concussions (if any)
  3. Inform the athlete’s parents or guardians about the possible concussion and give them the fact sheet on concussion. Make sure they know that the athlete should be seen by a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussion.

  4. IMPORTANT: Keep the athlete out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says he or she is symptom-free and it is okay to return to play. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first—usually within a short period of time (hours, days, or weeks)—can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems. In rare cases, repeat concussions can result in edema (brain swelling), permanent brain damage, and even death.

Recovering from a Concussion

Although most people recover fully after a concussion, how quickly they improve depends on many factors, including: their age, how healthy they were before the concussion, and how they take care of themselves after the injury.

Rest and time are the most important factors in recovering from a concussion. Rest is necessary because it helps the brain to heal, which takes time. “Toughing it out” and ignoring symptoms often makes them worse. Under the supervision of their healthcare provider, a person with a concussion should gradually resume normal work and school activities only when symptoms have reduced significantly. If symptoms return or new symptoms appear, it means the patient is pushing himself too hard. A person with a known or suspected concussion should not return to play until he is evaluated and given permission by an appropriate healthcare professional.

More Tips for Recovering from a Concussion 

  • Avoid activities that are physically demanding (e.g., weightlifting/working-out) or require a lot of concentration. They can make your symptoms worse and slow your recovery.
  • Get plenty of sleep at night and rest during the day. 
  • Avoid activities, such as contact or recreational sports that could cause another blow or jolt to the head. (It is best to avoid roller coasters or other high speed rides that can make your symptoms worse or even cause a concussion.)
  • Because your ability to react may be slower after a concussion, ask your healthcare professional when you can safely drive a car, ride a bike, or operate heavy equipment.
  • Talk with your health care professional about when you can return to work. Ask about how you can help your employer understand what has happened to you.
  • Consider talking with your employer about returning to work gradually and about changing your work activities or schedule until you recover (e.g., work half-days).
  • Take only those drugs that your health care professional has approved.
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages until your health care professional says you are well enough. Alcohol and other drugs may slow your recovery and put you at risk of further injury.
  • Write down the things that may be harder than usual for you to remember.
  • If you’re easily distracted, try to do one thing at a time. For example, don’t try to watch TV while fixing dinner.
  • Consult with family members or close friends when making important decisions.
  • Do not neglect your basic needs, such as eating well and getting enough rest.
  • Avoid sustained computer use, including computer/video games early in the recovery process.
  • Some people report that flying in airplanes makes their symptoms worse shortly after a concussion.

 Source: Centers for Disease Control