Concussion Facts and Tools
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 that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Even a “ding,” “getting your bell rung,” or what seems to be a mild bump or blow to the head can be serious.
Although they range from mild to severe, they're all serious injuries that can harm the way the brain works.
Concussions often occur in athletes, but experts still know little about this sports injury. That's because of the brain's complexity, and because of the lack of research into concussions.
Concussions are often hard to recognize. A forceful hit to the head or any part of the body that cause a rapid movement of the head may result in a concussion.
Most concussions do not involve loss of consciousness. You don't even have to be hit on the head. A blow to the shoulder that violently snaps the head can cause a concussion.
According to the CDC, 65% of sports- and recreation-related concussions seen in the emergency department are in children ages 5 to 18 years. Symptoms may not happen right away, but include impaired thinking, memory problems, and changes in emotions or behavior. Concussions in children younger than 10 years old are even more difficult to diagnose.
Did you know?
- Most concussions occur without loss of consciousness.
- Athletes who have at any point in their lives had a concussion have an increased risk for another concussion.
- Young children and teens are more likely to get a concussion and take longer to recover than adults.
Signs and symptoms of a concussion
Signs and symptoms of concussion can show up right after the injury or may not appear or be noticed until hours or days after the injury.
If an athlete reports one or more symptoms of concussion after a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body, he or she should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a physician, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says he or she is symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play.
Although symptoms may not occur right away, common signs include:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Lack of awareness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor attention and concentration
- Double or blurred vision
- Irritability and/or bothered by light or noise
- Memory problems
- Sleep disturbances
If you cannot easily wake a person who has a concussion, they need immediate medical attention.
Concussion danger signs
In rare cases, a dangerous blood clot may form on the brain in a person with a concussion and crowd the brain against the skull. An athlete should receive immediate medical attention if after a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body he or she exhibits any of the following danger signs:
- One pupil is larger than the other (if not a normal state for the athlete)
- Is drowsy or cannot be awakened
- A headache that not only does not diminish, but gets worse
- Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
- Convulsions or seizures
- Cannot recognize people or places
- Becomes increasingly confused, restless or agitated
- Has unusual behavior
- Loses consciousness (even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously)
What to do if you suspect a concussion
- Seek medical attention right away. A physician can determine if a concussion occurred, how serious it is and when it’s safe for your child to return to sports.
- Keep your child out of play. Concussions take time to heal. Don’t let your child return to play until a physician says it’s OK, even if your child insists otherwise. Children who return to play too soon – while the brain is still healing – risk a greater chance of having a second concussion. Second or later concussions can be extremely serious. They can cause permanent brain damage, affecting your child for a lifetime.
- Tell your child’s coach about any recent concussion. Coaches should know if your child had a recent concussion. The coach may not know about a previous concussion, and there could be serious health risks for your child.
Concussion quick reference guide - Please use this quick reference/checklist to determine whether a student athlete suffered a concussion.
Sideline concussion documentation- (with physician release) - This form is for use at the time of injury. It should be used along with a physician's evaluation and/or release form if the athlete is not diagnosed with a concussion.
Graded return-to-participation documentation - (with physician release) - This form is for use following a concussion to guide the athlete's gradual return to play. It should be coupled with a form for final release from a physician.
Middle school and high school football programs in California must follow the state’s concussion laws. These laws cover:
- The number of full-contact practices per week during preseason and regular season
- The length of the full-contact portion of each practice
- The immediate removal of a student suspected of sustaining a concussion from a game
- What the student is required to have in order to return to athletic activity
It is estimated that between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States every year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has concluded that sports concussions in the United States have reached an “epidemic level.” Estimates regarding the likelihood of an athlete in a contact sport experiencing a concussion may be as high as 19% per season.
Concussions can occur in any sport or recreation activity. So, all coaches, parents, and athletes need to learn concussion signs and symptoms and what to do if a concussion occurs.
Athletes who experience any of the signs and symptoms listed below after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play.
Remember, you can’t see a concussion and some athletes may not experience and/or report symptoms until hours or days after the injury. Most people with a concussion will recover quickly and fully. But for some people, signs and symptoms of concussion can last for days, weeks, or longer.
Signs observed by coaching staff
- Is confused about assignment or position
- Forgets an instruction
- Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
- Moves clumsily
- Answers questions slowly
- Loses consciousness (even briefly)
- Shows mood, behavior or personality changes
- Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall
- Can’t recall events after hit or fall
Symptoms reported by athlete
- Headache or “pressure” in head
- Nausea or vomiting
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Double or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to noise
- Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
- Concentration or memory problems
- Does not “feel right” or is “feeling down”