What is a concussion? Signs, symptoms & steps to recovery

In the United States, approximately 1.6-3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur each year. Many medical providers actually believe the figure is actually much higher due to significant under-reporting or unrecognized injury.

Nevertheless, a concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury people endure. If a head injury is more than a bump, it could be a concussion. They can have potentially harmful cumulative effects resulting in long-term changes in brain function.

Concussion symptoms

Symptoms as reported by the person who sustained the head injury:

  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Loss of equilibrium
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Confusion or concentration or memory problems
  • Visual or auditory disruptions
  • Feeling "foggy" or "out of it"

Concussion signs

Signs as reported by observers. You may observe the injured person:

  • Can’t recall events before or after a hit or fall
  • Decreased information processing
  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is confused when given even simple tasks
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes

Signs and symptoms generally show up soon after the injury. However, you may not know how serious the injury is at first and some symptoms may not show up for hours or days. Keep a close eye on any new developments that may occur, especially if you were the observer of a concussion being sustained.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.

When are concussions most commonly incurred?

Occupational hazards, car accidents, and other fateful events that cause a blow or jolt to the head can occur at any time. However athletes – especially those in organized sports such as football, baseball, boxing, or hockey – are at the greatest risk for a concussion.

Athletes in these sports are subject to multiple concussions over time and it is one of the most common sports injuries seen on the sidelines.

Incurring multiple concussions can lead to which are symptoms of prolonged concussions that occur long after a concussion was sustained. This is a sign of permanent brain damage, which can put professional athletes at a very pivotal moment looking at the end of a career in sports.

What do i do if i have a concussion?

It's not always possible to predict exactly who should go to the emergency room, who is safe to see a doctor in an urgent care office the next day, and who can just go home and rest. Whenever you are not sure, it's always better to be evaluated by a medical professional. However, signs and symptoms usually shed light as to whether a head injury can be taken care of at urgent care or warrants an immediate trip to the emergency room.

Whatever you do, don't return to play on the same day as the concussion. Athletes should never return to play with signs or symptoms of a concussion and be medically evaluated by a sports medicine professional – someone with a specialization in neurotrauma.

Can I go to urgent care for a concussion?

For most of the concussion symptoms listed above, you can be treated at an urgent care center, such as Urgent Care.

If you suspect someone has passed the emergency checklist above, an Urgent Care center can provide quick diagnostics to ensure their safety. The goal of this checkup is to be positive a concussion isn’t life-threatening or requires hospitalization.

Suspected concussion sufferers can expect the following during their visit:

  • A neurological checkup, in which an urgent care professional examines: reflexes, vision (following a finger), hearing, strength, and doing simple tasks such as balancing on one foot for a length of time. Our skilled providers can help identify the severity of a concussion from this non-invasive assessment.
  • cognitive examination, where the urgent care professional asks a few questions to check long- and short-term memory, awareness, and other vital brain functions.
  • In the case a physician suspects a potentially life-threatening injury, players might be fast-tracked to a radiology appointment or the nearest emergency room for advanced imaging. A CT scan or MRI will be able to show the extent of damage and swelling in the brain. If you are displaying very serious signs such as an inability to wake up, seizures, or repeated vomiting, it is a time-sensitive medical emergency and you should seek immediate care and proceed to the emergency room right away.

Should I go to the hospital for a concussion?

In general, any head injury associated with loss of consciousness, seizures, prolonged confusion or amnesia, neck pain, vomiting or numbness or weakness in arms or legs should be transported to the emergency room in an ambulance right away. Other potential warning signs of serious brain injury include:

  • One pupil is larger than the other
  • Drowsiness or inability to wake up
  • A headache that gets worse and does not go away
  • Slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures (shaking or twitching)
  • Unusual behavior, such as increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation
  • Loss of consciousness (passed out/knocked out) -- even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously
  • Have had multiple concussions in the past

How to recover from a concussion

Rest and length of recovery time are very important after a concussion because it helps the brain heal. You may also need to limit activities while recovering from a concussion.

Physical activities or activities that involve a lot of concentration, such as studying or working on the computer may cause mild symptoms (such as a headache or tiredness) to come back or get worse. Recurring concussions should be reported to your doctor right away for further testing and analysis.

When your provider says you are well enough, you can return to your normal activities slowly. Take it easy and do not resume all of your activities at once.

Talk with your medical provider about when you should return to your daily activities and how to deal with challenges during your recovery. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information.