We hear a lot about concussions in the media these days. It seems like every day there is another report of a professional athlete being held out of competition due to a concussion. As a society, we understand that concussions can be detrimental to our health but that hasn’t changed the incidence of concussions. In fact, over the past decade, we have seen a steady increase in the incidence of concussions.
This may be because our understanding about concussions is still developing. Not too long ago we thought that concussions only had short-term effects on the brain. We now know that concussions, if not treated properly can have a much more devastating effect.
So what are concussions anyway?
Concussions are caused by a blow to the head. Evidence has shown that even multiple small blows to the head can lead to a concussion. When an individual hits their head their brain can potentially be injured as it slams into the skull. When the brain cells are injured in a concussion they stop working like they normally would. This is known as neuronal dysfunction.
Concussions can be associated with a wide variety of symptoms depending on the area of the brain that is injured. Common symptoms include sleep disturbances, changes in mood, headache, and confusion or difficulty concentrating.
What should you do if you think you may have a concussion?
If you think you have a concussion the first thing you should do is to stop playing. There are a couple reasons for this. First, If you do have a concussion this may cloud or alter your judgment making further participation in sports dangerous. Second, you want to protect yourself from sustaining another hit to the head. Multiple concussions sustained in a short period of time can have devastating effects on your brain and carry the potential for permanent brain damage.
The next step is seeing a qualified health care provider that is familiar with concussions. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider about their knowledge of current concussion clinical guidelines. These guidelines are developed based on the most current concussion research.
Most providers will recommend some physical rest and cognitive rest in the initial stages of concussions. Cognitive rest is the avoidance of any mental activity that may make concussion symptoms worse. Sometimes this means avoiding screen time, school and other cognitive tasks for a short period.
How long will it take to recover?
The good new is that most concussions resolve within 10 days. unfortunately, for about 10 percent of people concussion symptoms may last for longer than this. When concussion symptoms persist for a long time this is known as Post-concussion syndrome.
Individuals with a history of ADHD, depression, and learning disabilities seem to have a tougher time recovering from concussions. Also if you have had a concussion in the past you may have a longer recovery than most.