doctor consulting with concussion patient

Nearly three million sports and recreation related concussions happen every year. Each one of those concussions is a complex injury and therefore, there is no simple time frame for recovery.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, which is the ideal time to bring you Part 2 of Concussion Myth or Fact. Alicia Sufrinko, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, explains the facts behind some of the most common concussion myths.

Myth: You must be hit in the head to have a concussion.

Fact: A concussion can occur from direct or indirect forces to the head. A strong whiplash motion or body hit may provide enough force to cause a concussion.

Myth: Once your headache is gone, it’s okay to return to play.

Fact: While a headache is the most common symptom experienced, there are more than 20 symptoms of concussion. Therefore, it is not the only indicator that someone has recovered. The current International Return to Play Criteria states that an individual must be symptom free at rest, symptom free with physical exertion, and must demonstrate neurocognitive test data that is within baseline expectations. This requires a comprehensive evaluation by a trained medical professional. No athlete should return to play without proper clearance from a medical professional trained in concussion management.

Myth: All medical professionals are trained to manage concussions.

Fact: Many medical professionals have not received proper training in concussion management. Given the significant advancements in the field, it is important to find a provider who has been trained appropriately in concussion management and treatment protocols. Proper evaluations should include some form of neurocognitive testing, as well as a structured return-to-play exertion protocol.

Myth: A CT scan or MRI can help with concussion diagnosis and treatment.

Fact: Brain imaging is conducted to rule out more severe brain injuries, such as skull fractures or bleeding in the brain. Results of conventional imaging modalities are negative following concussion, and only a comprehensive and multimodal evaluation (e.g., symptom assessment, vestibular, and oculomotor testing) with an experienced healthcare provider can help with diagnosis.

Myth: Athletes should stop participating in sports after sustaining three concussions.

Fact: Each concussion is unique and athletes recover differently to injuries. As such, there is no magic number of concussions that should prohibit an athlete from returning to play. In cases where athletes have sustained multiple concussions it is important to see a specialist to identify risk factors that place that athlete at risk for re-injury, and determine if any measures can be taken to minimize future risk.

Read more Concussion Myths.

To learn more about concussion diagnosis and treatment options, visit the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program website.