A concussion is a brain injury that affects a person’s brain function. Concussions can be caused by any blow to the head, face or neck, or somewhere else on the body that causes a sudden jarring of the head (i.e. body checks in hockey, falls, car accidents). Although the effects are usually temporary, a concussion may results in changes in the way a person may think and remember things, and can cause a variety of symptoms.
Concussions can happen to anyone; however, this article will be focusing recognizing the signs and symptoms of a concussion in a sport setting. Concussions are often seen in athletes that participate in sports such as hockey, figure skating, soccer, and other school based sports, which are common in our community. For this reason, it is imperative that coaches, parents, teachers and peers are aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
First, it is important to understand that an individual does not have to pass out (lose consciousness) to have a concussion. Some people will have obvious signs of a concussion, such as loss of consciousness or forgetting what happened right before the injury. But other people won’t. Common visual signs of a concussion include:
- Lying motionless on the playing surface
- Slow to get up after a direct of indirect hit to the head
- Disorientation or confusion or inability to respond appropriately to questions
- Blank or vacant stare
- Balance, gait difficulties, motor incoordination, stumbling, slow labored movements
- Facial injury after head trauma
- Clutching head
Some athletes will develop symptoms immediately after a head injury while others will develop delayed symptoms (beginning 24 to 48 hours after the injury). Concussions may go undiagnosed, especially when symptoms only appear hours or days after the injury, because concussions still cannot be seen on X-rays, MRIs or CT scans. Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of the symptoms and to remember that they sometimes do not appear right away. Common symptoms include:
- Headaches or head pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred or fuzzy vision
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Balance problems
- Feeling tired or having no energy
- Not thinking clearly
- Feeling slowed down
- Easily upset or angered
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Feeling more emotional
- Sleeping more or sleeping less
- Having a hard time falling asleep
- Difficulty working on a computer
- Difficulty reading
- Difficulty learning new information
A concussion should be suspected in any athlete who sustains a significant impact to the head, face, neck, or body and reports ANY symptoms or demonstrates ANY visual signs of a concussion. A concussion should also be suspected if an athlete reports ANY concussion symptoms to one of their peers, parents, teachers, or coaches or if anyone witnesses an athlete exhibiting ANY of the visual signs of concussion.
If an athlete is suspected of sustaining a concussion during sports they should be immediately removed from play. The key message is to RECOGNIZE and REMOVE.
ALL athletes with a suspected concussion should be assessed by a physician or nurse practitioner as soon as possible. After a concussion the brain is more sensitive to damage. Therefore, while the athlete is recovering, they should avoid activities that may injure them again. Only after receiving medical clearance from a physician or nurse practitioner should an athlete with a suspected concussion return to sport activities.
With rest and by working with their health care providers, most athletes fully recover from a concussion within 1 to 4 weeks. Treatment usually involves an initial short period of rest (24 to 48 hours) and then some light cognitive and physical activity (as long as they don’t cause symptoms to worsen). Health care providers will work with the athlete to discuss a standardized return to school and return to sport strategy. Most are going to be back to their activity within one week.
Chiropractors and physiotherapists can play a very important role in helping with recovery from both some of the acute symptoms and also for those who may be experiencing more prolonged symptoms.
If you are someone who cares for or works with athletes or students, consider becoming familiar with the signs and symptoms of concussions so that athletes with suspected concussions can be removed from play right away. Continuing to play increases their risk of more severe, longer-lasting concussions symptoms, as well as increase their risk of other injury. It is also recommended that athletes take responsibility and become more aware of concussions and to tell someone if they have any symptoms.
For more information on concussions, please see the following resources:
Parachute website: http://www.parachutecanada.org/injury-topics/item/concussion
Dr. Mike Evans video: https://youtu.be/_55YmblG9YM