September 29, 2015 | by Jeremy D. Johnson MD, MPH, RMSK

Concussions are common.

In fact, one in 14 high school football players will suffer at least one concussion each season. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates up to 3.8 million sports-related concussions are reported every year in America. However, the true number of concussions is likely higher, as many athletes do not report them, fearing a loss of playing time or they may underestimate the risk of sustaining a concussion. While a “small” head impact may not seem like a big deal, concussions can have significant effects on your daily life.

Know the symptoms

Symptoms of a concussion can vary greatly between individuals, both in their intensity and character. Some individuals experience fatigue, headaches, irritability, depression, or anxiety. Others may experience “foggy thinking,” difficulty with sleep, or problems with concentration. Concussion symptoms are usually worse with either mental or physical activity. Sports medicine physicians are trained in concussion management and can help individuals navigate their recovery following a head injury.

The myths and misconceptions

Given the complexity and number of symptoms present in concussions, many misconceptions exist. First, it was once thought that concussions only occur when there is a loss of consciousness. In fact, these are the minority of cases and a short loss of consciousness does not predict the severity of injury. Also, concussions can occur even without head impact, rather the acceleration forces placed on the brain cause the injury. Interestingly, certain groups are more at risk for prolonged and complicated symptoms, including younger athletes, those who play contact sports, and female athletes. Recognizing the signs of a concussion and following an individualized treatment plan is essential to full and timely recovery.

A quick overview of concussion symptoms to look for:

  • Difficulty concentrating or poor memory
  • Headaches, including those with migraine symptoms
  • Sleep disturbances and drowsiness
  • Balance issues
  • Initial confusion, short-term memory lapses, or the inability to recognize people and places
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Mood changes

Concussion consequences

Concussion symptoms can be prolonged and more severe if unrecognized and undertreated. The long-term consequences of concussion are being studied, but may be serious and long-lasting. Those who continue to participate in high contact sports following a concussion are at risk for Second Impact Syndrome, which is secondary trauma to the brain that can result in brain swelling and permanent neurological dysfunction or even death.

If you see your child or another athlete exhibiting signs or symptoms of a concussion, there are a few things you can do to prevent further issues:

  • Remove the athlete from competition immediately.
  • Monitor the athlete for worsening symptoms over the next four hours. If symptoms worsen there may be a more serious injury and the athlete should be sent to the emergency department immediately.
  • Have the athlete follow-up with their primary care or sports medicine physician within 24 to 48 hours for a thorough evaluation.

Sports medicine, orthopedics, and physical therapy

Sports medicine doctors are equipped with extensive knowledge about trauma to the body like concussions, as well as orthopedics and physical therapy. Sports medicine doctors aren’t just for athletes either— whether you’re getting back into shape or just using your body for other extraneous activities, sports medicine doctors can support you in your physical journey to health.

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