What is a Concussion?

concussion is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when your brain is shaken inside your skull. This incident can potentially damage the blood vessels in your brain or injure its tissue.

It’s called an ‘invisible injury’ because a concussion’s symptoms aren’t always easy to recognize and even MRI imaging isn’t perfect at identifying one. But when this kind of brain trauma happens, the effects are all too real. According to Scientific American, one blow to the head may increase your risk of a mental health disorder.

All it takes is a hard tumble on the basketball court or a blow to your head or body. Yes, that’s right — you don’t necessarily have to hit your head. For example, when your body stops suddenly due to a hard tackle or a strong pick, it can cause whiplash and a concussion.

Concussions and sports: When you need to step back

Some people think concussions only happen if you black out. But nine out of ten concussions don’t make you lose consciousness, and some only cause a brief interruption in mental alertness. Studies find that most high school and college athletes don’t report concussions while playing football. They might not realize that a concussion can happen even if you don’t black out.

In the past, athletes in many sports returned to play too soon after a concussion, sometimes even on the same day. But sports and health organizations are starting to take these injuries much more seriously. Trainers, health care professionals and athletes themselves are watching more closely for concussions and taking a more conservative approach to rehabilitation and return to play. This is an important change for the health of athletes everywhere.

Here are some points to consider and steps you can take to reduce your chances of suffering long term effects after a hard hit.

1. What happens immediately after a concussion?

If you’ve had a concussion, the first 10 days are crucial. During this time you are at the greatest risk for another concussion. Not only that, your risk of getting another concussion rises every time you have one. If you can protect yourself in those first few days, you’ll have much better odds of a full recovery.

2. How can I tell if I have a concussion?

First, you need to know if you have a concussion. Effective concussion management starts with recognizing the signs and symptoms, some of which may show up hours or days after your injury. It’s important for parents, coaches, trainers and athletes to recognize the early signs.

Early signs of a concussion typically include:

  • Difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating or remembering new information
  • Headache, blurry vision, queasiness or vomiting, dizziness, balance problems or sensitivity to noise or light
  • Irritability, moodiness, sadness or nervousness
  • Extreme sleepiness or difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep

Any athlete with potential concussion warning signs should see a medical doctor or nurse practitioner as quickly as possible for a diagnosis. Remember, there is no simple test for a concussion. You can miss a concussion if you rely only on a simple five-minute assessment done on the sidelines.

Athletes, coaches, parents and health care professionals should all be up to date on concussions. If you are not comfortable dealing with a concussion yourself, have a concussion plan in place so you know exactly who to ask for help if someone shows warning signs.

3. When can I return to play?

Most people recover from a concussion within a few days to three months. The Zurich Consensus statement on concussion recovery recommends the following five stages of rehabilitation:

  • No activity – Focus on recovery. Rest your body and your mind.
  • Light aerobic exercise – Get your heart rate up with light activities, such as walking and swimming, but don’t go past 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate. Your goal is to increase your heart rate without risk of re-injury. Do not do any resistance training yet.
  • Sport-specific exercise – Add movement by re-introducing sport-specific movement, like skating or running drills. Don’t do anything that might put your head at risk of being hit.
  • Non-contact training drills – Add more complex forms of training to improve your exercise, coordination and cognitive load. This could include passing drills in football or hockey. You may start resistance training again.
  • Full-contact practice: Once your doctor says it’s okay, you can participate in normal training again. This will build your confidence and skills before returning to play.

If you experience any recurring symptoms at any point in your recovery, restart the process and remain inactive until the symptoms stop.

You should return to play after a concussion only once a licensed health care professional, who is trained in evaluating and managing concussions, has given you medical clearance to do so. 

5. What’s role does a health care team play?

In all cases, it’s important to have a health care team working together to get you back on the field safely and with an eye on your long-term health.

A medical doctor or nurse practitioner can provide a concussion diagnosis, manage your condition and evaluate ‘when’ they can safely provide medical clearance for your return to play.

Health care professionals, such as chiropractors can also help you manage headaches or back and muscle pain you may have as a result of your concussion. In addition to your head, you may have also injured your neck, shoulder or back. While you’re resting and recovering, these injuries might resolve on their own. If not, a chiropractor or a physiotherapist can help you recover and return to play. A full evaluation of your strength and physical function will help you know when your body is ready to get back into the game.

Concussion symptoms can vary widely from person to person. One person might suffer from pain, while another may have depression and trouble sleeping. Education, encouragement and a commitment to getting you back to your daily activities as soon as it is safe and appropriate are some of the best known strategies to help you avoid or overcome many of a concussion’s negative results. It takes a committed approach from the right health care team, along with your family and friends to help you get there.

To find a chiropractor near you, use the chiropractor locator on our website. In Ontario, you can visit a chiropractor without a referral from a medical doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care professional.