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What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury in which trauma to the head results in a temporary disruption of normal brain function. The injury occurs when a person’s brain is violently rocked back and forth or twisted inside the skull as a result of a direct or indirect force. A concussion disturbs brain activity and should be handled as a serious injury. Proper healing and recovery time following a concussion are crucial in preventing further injury.

Athletes who are not fully recovered from an initial concussion are significantly vulnerable for recurrent, cumulative, and even catastrophic consequences of a second concussive injury. Such difficulties are prevented if the athlete is allowed time to recover from a concussion and if return-to-play decisions are carefully made. No athlete should return to sport or other at-risk participation when symptoms of a concussion are present and recovery is ongoing. In summary, the best way to prevent difficulties with a concussion is to manage the injury properly when it occurs.

Concussion Facts:

  • An athlete does not have to lose consciousness (be “knocked-out”) to suffer a concussion
  • A concussion is a traumatic injury to the brain
  • Concussion symptoms may last for several weeks, even months, following the injury
  • Concussions can cause symptoms that interfere with school, work, and social life
  • Special football helmets, soccer head gear, and mouth guards have not been scientifically proven to prevent concussions
  • An athlete should not return to sports while still experiencing symptoms of a concussion, as they are at risk for prolonging symptoms and further injury

What Are the Symptoms of a Concussion?

A concussion may cause multiple symptoms. Many symptoms appear immediately after the injury, while others can develop over the following days or weeks. The symptoms may be subtle and are often difficult to fully recognize. It is not unusual for symptoms to worsen with physical activity. In many cases, even simple things, such as going to school or reading a book, may worsen symptoms.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Easily confused
  • Slowed thought processes
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Nausea
  • Lack of energy, fatigue
  • Dizziness, poor balance, lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Poor sleep
  • Mood changes (irritable, anxious, or sad)

ATHLETES SHOULD NOT RETURN TO PLAY UNTIL SYMPTOM FREE

What Should Be Done When an Athlete Has Suffered a Concussion?

  • All athletes who sustain a concussion need a medical evaluation by a physician. If the concussed athlete is vomiting, suffering a severe headache, having difficulty staying awake or answering simple questions, he or she should be taken to a local emergency department.
  • Call (541) 485-8111 to make an appointment to see Michael C. Koester, MD, ATC, sports medicine specialist and director of Slocum Center's Sports Concussion Program.

Diagnostic testing, which includes CT and MRI, may be needed. While these are helpful in identifying life-threatening brain injuries, such as a skull fracture, hematoma, or a contusion, they are typically normal even in athletes who have sustained a severe concussion.

How Long Do the Symptoms of a Concussion Usually Last?

The symptoms of a concussion will usually go away within 5 to 7 days of the initial injury. However, in some cases, symptoms may last for several weeks or even months. Symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, poor concentration, and mood changes can interfere with school, work, and social interactions. The potential for such long-term symptoms indicates the need for careful management of all concussions.

How Many Concussions Can an Athlete Have Before He or She Should Stop Playing Sports?

There is no “magic number” of concussions that determines when an athlete should give up playing contact or collision sports. The circumstances surrounding each individual injury, such as mechanism of injury and length of symptoms following the concussion, are very important and must be considered when assessing an athlete's risk for further, and potentially more serious, concussions. The decision to “retire” from sports can only be reached following a thorough review of the athlete’s concussion history, coupled with a thorough and frank discussion between the treating physician and the athlete and his or her parents.