A concussion can happen in a mind-numbing flash - a sudden blow, bump or jarring jolt to the head. A sudden movement that causes the brain to bounce or twist inside the skull, often creating chemical or structural changes that can leave a person reeling with side effects.
While many people experiencing a concussion – a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) – fully recover, others may experience persistent neurocognitive symptoms, including memory issues, slower processing speed and difficulty concentrating. A concussion also can lead to physical symptoms such as increased fatigue, headaches, irritability, vision problems and dizziness.
With concussion being such a hot topic in today's society, coaches, parents and physicians are on high-alert to watch for signs of concussion following an injury or accident, and concussion treatments continue to evolve.
What Are Symptoms Of A Concussion?
The most frequent symptom of a concussion is a headache. The symptoms of a concussion can be mild, but if a headache persists or worsens, it could mean there is bleeding in the skull.
When something's just not right after a fall or injury, watch for these signs of concussion:
Trouble thinking clearly
Feeling slowed down
Trouble concentrating or remembering new information
Fuzzy or blurry vision
Sensitivity to noise or light
Ringing in the ears
Brief loss of consciousness
Nervousness or anxiety
Sleeping more or less than usual
Trouble falling or staying asleep
Symptoms can last for days, weeks or even longer, although most people start to heal within a week.
What Is A Concussion Test?
A concussion is diagnosed with a physical exam and by evaluating a person’s cognitive ability, mood and additional symptoms. A CT scan or MRI might be done to check for bleeding in the skull. Patients may also require overnight observation in the hospital.
A patient may undergo a baseline ImPact test - a computer-based exam which measures attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, non-verbal problem solving and reaction time.
"Tests help us determine which part of the brain has been injured. We can start with the appropriate treatment sooner, based on the type of concussion they have and their goals," said Franciscan Health Sports Medicine manager Craig Voll, PhD, PT.
How Do You Treat A Concussion?
The newest research on concussions reveals that starting therapy sooner makes a significant difference in preventing long-term problems.
"The old treatment was 'cocoon therapy' - rest until symptoms are gone, then begin therapy. We've learned that's the worst thing you can do for concussions," Voll said.
Sometimes concussions require therapy to help your brain fully recovery. Therapy may include balance therapy, ocular training, cognitive training and cervical therapy.
"Using an interdisciplinary team of speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, neuropsychologists, sports medicine physicians and physiatrists, is important for providing individualized treatment of patients' physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms,” said Sachin Mehta, MD, medical director for the Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation Center at Franciscan Health Indianapolis.
"We are always exploring and implementing new and evolving therapies," said Dr. Mehta.
The most important treatment for a concussion is rest from all activities, including those at school or work. Activities that require a high level of focused attention should also be stopped.
What Happens If You Don't Treat A Concussion?
Early diagnosis and comprehensive concussion treatment can lead to better outcomes.
For children, those issues can mean struggling in school, depression or behavior problems. Adults may struggle at work, miss work and risk losing their job.
Who Is Most At Risk For A Concussion?
"Overall, men are up to three times more likely to suffer a non-sports-related mild TBI or concussion than females," said Dr. Mehta, who is one of only four physicians in Indiana certified in brain injury medicine by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. "Similarly, children and teens are more likely to get a concussion and take longer to recover than adults."
Adolescents are at higher risk for concussions because their brains are still developing.
The majority of concussions are mild, and people usually recover fully with rest. After a person has a concussion, he or she has a three to five times greater risk for additional concussions.