A concussion is a mild form of a traumatic brain injury. It occurs when a blow or jarring motion to the head causes the brain to quickly move back and forth within the skull. This leads to changes in brain function (an altered mental state), and in some cases, loss of consciousness.
After a concussion, people may have problems with thinking, mood, vision, migraines, and balance and movement (the vestibular system). Although the exact signs and symptoms of a concussion vary from person to person, confusion, dizziness, and headaches are typical.
Concussions are very common. Somewhere between 1.8 and 3.6 million sports- and recreation-related cases occurring each year in the United States.
What Causes a Concussion?
Concussions can affect people of all ages, and they occur for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are slips and falls, car accidents, bike accidents, and sports injuries. Other hits to the head can cause concussions as well.
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What Are the Symptoms of a Concussion?
People who have suffered a concussion may experience:
- Anxiety, depression, and other mood changes
- Difficulty concentrating and paying attention
- Sensitivity to light
- Loss of consciousness
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Sensitivity to noise
- Personality changes
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Vision changes and other problems with the eyes
Do Concussion Symptoms Show Up Right Away?
Concussion symptoms often show up in the first few minutes after a traumatic event. Symptoms also can be delayed and appear up to two days later. Sometimes symptoms don’t appear until you use the affected part of the brain. For example, if a concussion has affected your balance and spatial orientation, symptoms may only become more obvious during a car ride or when walking downstairs.
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How Are Concussions Treated?
Most concussions are mild and highly treatable. The best way to prevent long-term problems is to seek treatment right away. Health care professionals typically start with an exam to determine if the patient has a concussion and identify the type of concussion. Knowing the type of concussion helps to determine the best way to treat it.
Physical and mental rest are important for recovery with certain types of concussions, but patients often need more specific treatments like physical therapy, vestibular therapy, and even physical workouts. For people suffering from headaches, over-the-counter pain relievers are often recommended, though these sometimes aren’t effective or may cause rebound headaches.
Are the Health Effects Worse With Multiple Concussions?
With proper treatment and care, having one concussion doesn’t mean the effects of subsequent concussions will add up or be worse. But multiple concussions may put people at risk for cognitive and neurological problems. Further research is needed to better understand this issue.
Concussions Among Young Athletes
Concussions are common among athletes in various sports, including cheerleading, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, football, and others. It’s important for athletes to immediately leave the field if they exhibit any signs or symptoms of a concussion —not justified those lose consciousness. Other signs that mean an athlete should stop playing include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and loss of memory. Research shows patients who stop playing immediately recover more quickly than patients who stay on the field following head trauma.
When a young athlete suffers a concussion, it’s important to seek treatment immediately at a clinic that specializes in concussions. Long-term side effects are possible if an athlete returns their sport before fully recovered and have consent from their doctors. With appropriate treatment, most young athletes can safely return to the sports they love.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Facts for Physicians About Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI).
British Journal of Sports Medicine. A systematic review of potential long-term effects of sport-related concussion.
Pediatrics—Official Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics. Removal From Play After Concussion and Recovery Time.
About Sports Medicine
Sports bring with them a potential for injury. And if you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. We serve athletes from a wide variety of sports across every demographic: young or old, male or female, pro or amateur. We partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and over 60 high school, college, and regional teams and events. We’re working to build better athletes. We use cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques to help you recover and provide education on how to prevent injuries.