Concussions: What Really Happens

Concussions: What Really Happens

What Really Happens During a Concussion?

The word “concussion” is used so often today that the world seems to be more desensitized to it. Thus, the condition itself is brushed off and not taken as seriously as it should be. Seeing stars after a nasty blow isn’t a good sign and doesn’t just go away after a few minutes, like in our favorite cartoons (that’d be nice, huh?). Truth is, an individual only loses consciousness in only around 10% of concussion cases, and even a mild head injury can lead to permanent damage mentally, emotionally, and/or physically.

Concussion Discussion: Facing the Facts

Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury, with up to almost 4 million reported cases each year. For young people between the ages of 15 to 24, sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury. It’s estimated that about 10% of all contact sport athletes receive concussions in any given year.

For men, football is the worst offender. For women, it’s soccer. Keep in mind, though, that concussions aren’t always a result of contact sports. They can be caused by a variety of circumstances, some of which you may not even be aware of.

We’re not trying to scare you – just inform you. After all, most concussions are not life-threatening, especially if it is an isolated incident.

Concussion Breakdown

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that happens when the brain hits the inside of the skull. It’s often the result of a physical blow to the head, but not always. A concussion occurs when you, or something causes you to, violently jerk your brain against the skull.

Although your brain is shielded by a hard skull and floats in what’s called cerebrospinal fluid for protection, it’s still a soft organ that can be jostled, rattled, and damaged. The protective barriers are only effective during normal activity, while sudden movements can send your brain aggressively into your skull. The result can be physical damage to your brain, known as a contusion.

Again, don’t be scared. In most cases, the brain can heal itself (which is really cool).

As previously stated, not all concussions result in a loss of consciousness. In fact, the majority of concussion sufferers (between 80% to 90%) do not pass out. Children and teenagers, however, are more susceptible to a loss of consciousness.

These scenarios can lead to concussion:

  • A fall where you bump your head
  • Your head or upper body is hit by a projectile object
  • You spin your head around and stop suddenly
  • You quickly and violently dodge a projectile object
  • You are in a car or biking accident where your forward (or backward) motion is suddenly stopped
  • You experience an explosion which can create an instant shift in air pressure


Do helmets help?

Even when wearing a helmet, you can still receive a concussion. Contrary to popular belief, helmets don’t necessarily prevent concussions. What helmets do prevent is skull fracture, which can limit the severity of a brain injury, but helmets cannot stop someone from getting a concussion.

If you don’t treat a concussion:

It can lead to severe, irreversible brain damage.
You become more vulnerable to getting a second concussion in the future.
Then a third concussion.
And so forth.

That’s why it’s so important to see a doctor if you’ve experienced a blow to the head, especially if your symptoms linger past 15 minutes or so.

Why does it make you more susceptible?

Those who experience multiple concussions are likely to be involved in a contact sport like football, soccer, or hockey. Moreover, the effects of concussion are cumulative in those who continue to play the sport before fully recovering.

Children and teens need to take particular care after receiving a concussion. In some rare cases, getting a second concussion before healing from the first can lead to permanent brain damage or even death.

Concussions: It’s OK to self-examine

It’s common for those suffering a concussion to brush it off as a really bad headache and some confusion. This may be the case, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a sign of something worse. With concussions, we must be hyper-aware of symptoms, as concussions cannot be diagnosed with an MRI or CT scan. Unfortunately, we are our own CT scan. That is, until we go see a professional to help isolate and determine the actual condition and subsequent recovery steps.

If you have these symptoms, tell a doctor.

  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling of pressure in the head
  • Fogginess
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea
  • Neck pain
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Seeing stars
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Slower reaction times than normal
  • Sluggish
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble balancing
  • Vomiting


How Long Does It Take to Recover from a Concussion?

It depends. Considering the severity of the blow, your age, and health history, full recovery can happen within hours. However, for some, it may require brain rehabilitation treatment.

Treat Yourself.

How you treat yourself post-concussion is crucial to how quickly (and how well) you recover. Are you still out on the field the next day? Are you climbing to the top of the pyramid in Friday’s pep rally? Please, do not. Think long term. And treat yourself.

Here’s what not to do during recovery.

Don’t do too much.

Recovery = Physical Rest. Don’t push your body to continue physical activity, especially that which got you into this mess. To fully recover, so that you can return to life as it was, you must divert all available energy to brain recovery.

Recovery = Mental Rest. Now is not the time to solve rubik’s cubes. If it hurts to think, it’s best to avoid concentrating too hard on any one thing.

Don’t interrupt sleep.

Unless your doctor recommends it, you need not wake up from sleep every two hours. Understand that rest is a big part of recovering from a brain injury, and there’s no better rest than actual, consistent sleep.

Don’t make any sudden movements.

This especially applies to head movements. You don’t want to risk traumatizing your brain even further.

When Can I Return to My Normal Life After a Concussion?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone is different.

The short answer:

It takes as long as it takes.

But, ask yourself:

Am I still feeling the concussion symptoms? If so, you’re not ready yet. If not, things may be back to normal.

Most importantly:

Be patient with yourself. We aren’t really taught to do this in everyday life, so give your brain (yourself) the chance to heal from this injury and if it does not heal itself, seek professional treatment options.

Speed up that effort by getting rest, and remember that even though you’re physically resting from your normal activities, your brain is hard at work repairing and restoring itself (which, again, is really cool).

For more information about Cerebrum treats ongoing concussion symptoms, click here.