A concussion is an injury to your brain that causes problems with how the brain works. It can affect brain tasks like memory, balance, concentration, judgement, and coordination.
Most will have a full recovery but the brain will need time to heal with the proper rest and monitoring.
A concussion is caused by a sudden, violent jolt to the brain. The force can cause stretching and tearing to the brain and soft tissue that supports it. Forces that can cause this type of damage include: A blow to the headSevere jarring or shaking—like a bad fallAbruptly coming to a stop—most common in car accidents
How a Concussion Occurs
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Factors that may increase your chance of a concussion include: A previous concussion or head injuryParticipation in contact sports like football or boxing, especially during competitionWork that involves farming, logging, or construction where the potential for a head injury is highBeing in a car accidentIncreased susceptibility to concussionAlcohol intoxication
Concussions most often occur with: Motor vehiclesBicyclesSkates, skateboards, and scootersSports and recreationFallsFirearms
Physical violence including
domestic abuse or child abuse
A concussion can cause symptoms that may last for days, weeks, or even longer. They may be immediately present or appear a few hours or days after the injury. The symptoms that develop will depend on the severity of the injury. More common symptoms are listed below.
Physical symptoms may include: Low-grade headache or neck painLoss of balance or coordinationFeeling lightheadedRinging in the ears or trouble hearingBlurred vision or eyes that tire easilyNausea or vomitingFeeling fatigued or tired
Increased sensitivity to sounds, light, or distraction
Change in sleeping pattern, sleeping more than normal or trouble sleeping
Mental and emotional symptoms may include: ConfusionLoss of consciousness or memory about the accident
Trouble processing information such as difficulty: Remembering thingsPaying attention or concentratingOrganizing daily tasksMaking decisions and solving problemsSlowness in thinking, acting, speaking, or reading
Mood instability or changes such as:
Feeling sad, anxious, or listlessBecoming easily irritated or angry for little or no reasonLacking motivationHallucinations
A doctor should be consulted if serious symptoms like confusion and vomiting occur or if symptoms get worse.
Young children may not be able to clearly communicate symptoms. Talk to a doctor if the child has had a head injury and is showing any of the following symptoms: Listlessness or tiring easilyIrritability or crankiness
Eating or sleeping patternsPlayBehaviorSchool performanceLack of interest in favorite toys or activitiesLoss of new skills, such as toilet trainingLoss of balance, unsteady walking
You will be asked about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Others who witnessed the accident may also be asked to describe what happened and how you reacted. A physical exam will be done. It will often include brief tests for strength, sensation, balance, reflexes, and memory. The doctor will often be able to diagnose a concussion based on the exam and history.
A CT scan may be done if there are severe symptoms or certain risk factors but are not always needed.
The brain can often heal on its own with some rest and avoiding activities that may be harmful while it heals. Normal activities can be resumed when tolerated and advised by the doctor. Strenuous physical activity and sports participation may be resumed depending on the severity of your concussion and individual symptoms. Symptoms will gradually fade during recovery.
There may be cognitive problems after a concussion that can make mentally-demanding tasks more difficult. Early in recovery, activities that need concentration like work or schoolwork may need to be limited. For children this also includes avoiding video games, watching television, computer activities, or texting.
Increase mental and physical activities gradually as recommended by your doctor based on how you feel. Symptoms, balance, cognition and tolerance to current activity levels may be tested throughout recovery. This information will be used to decide if further rest is needed or it is time to progress to the next step.
Although returning to mental or physical activities too quickly might make symptoms worse and slow the recovery process, they will not affect your overall recovery. Strict rest is not needed.
The brain is more vulnerable to injuries while it is healing. Re-injury can lead to more severe or long-term symptoms. Precautions should be taken with: Certain medications—especially aspirin , blood thinners, and medications that cause drowsiness
Use of alcohol and illegal drugs.Activities that might jolt or jar the head from recreational activities and sports to rollercoasters.
Second head injury can be especially dangerous in children and adolescents (second impact syndrome). Even a mild second head injury in children and adolescents can lead to serious damage to the brain. This can lead to unconsciousness and even death.
A closed head injury is often the result of an accident which can be difficult to prevent. To decrease the chance of severe injuries during an accident: Always use seatbelts, shoulder harnesses, and child safety seats when traveling in vehicles. Follow recommendation for child car safety options.Learn about the air bags in your car. Young children should not be placed in front of airbags. Check your cars specifications.
Wear a helmet when participating in high risk activities such as:
Riding a bike or motorcyclePlaying a contact sport like football, soccer, or hockeyUsing skates, scooters, and skateboardsCatching, batting, or running bases in baseball or softballRiding a horseSkiing or snowboarding
To prevent accidents at home that can lead to concussions: Make sure your child's play surface is soft and free of rocks, holes, and debris.Use handrails when walking up and down stairs—teach your child to do so.Install safety gates by stairs and safety guards by windows.Use grab bars in the bathroom.Place non-slip mats in the bathroom.Keep walkways clear to avoid tripping.Make sure rooms and hallways are well lit.
Halstead ME, Walter KD, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical report--sport-related concussion in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2010 Sep;126(3):597-615. full-text
Kirkwood MW, Yeates KO, Wilson PE. Pediatric sport-related concussion: a review of the clinical management of an oft-neglected population.
Mild traumatic brain injury/Concussions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/recovery.html. Updated January 22, 2016. Accessed February 11, 2016.
Pearce JM. Observations on concussion: a review.
Sports-related concussion information for athletes. Wesleyan University Athletic Injury Care website. Available at:
Updated January 2007. Accessed February 11, 2016.
Traumatic brain injury. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
Updated February 9, 2016. Accessed February 11, 2016.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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