Your brain and concussions

How Concussions Occur

Your brain weighs about 2 Ė 3 pounds and, of course, is inside the hard protective bones of your skull. The brain itself is actually quite soft and is floating inside your head in a special water called cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid bathes the brain every few hours and also provides nutrients to your brain to help it operate smoothly. When a personís head is shaken around or hits something hard, like the ground or the inside of a car or someoneís foot, the brain can slosh and bang around inside the skull. These forces can lead to your brain getting bruised and the nerves of your brain being injured. When this happens, you may experience a concussion ó a temporary loss of your normal brain functioning. Now, most people with concussions recover just fine with appropriate treatment. But, concussions should be taken very seriously and treated properly, because they can result in much more serious injury, or even DEATH, if not managed well.

People can also get concussions from falls, car accidents, bike and blading mishaps, playing sports, and physical violence, such as fighting. Guys are more likely to get concussions than girls. However, in certain sports, like soccer, girls have a higher potential for concussions. Also, concussions are often more serious in younger people than in adults. That is, the symptoms can be more severe and last longer if you are under age 19.

After a Concussion

After a concussion, the brain needs time to heal. It's really important to wait until all symptoms of a concussion have cleared up before returning to normal activities. The amount of time someone needs to recover depends on how long the symptoms last. Healthy teens can usually resume their normal activities within a few weeks, but each situation is different. The best way to tell that the symptoms are completely resolved is by taking the ImPACT test before you get a concussion and then, if you do get a concussion, taking the same test a second time. By comparing your scores from before and after your concussion the doctor can tell if you are still having any thinking difficulties and can treat you properly. The most common treatment is to stop all physical activity and to lighten your coursework at school. This is all done under the supervision of your doctor or rehabilitation specialist.

How to Prevent Concussions

Sometime accidents just canít be avoided. But you can do a lot to prevent a concussion from occurring by taking simple precautions:
  • Always wear a seat belt in a car.
  • Always wear appropriate headgear and safety equipment when biking, blading, skateboarding, snowboarding or skiing, and playing contact sports. Helmets work by absorbing the energy from a blow to the head. For example, by wearing a bike helmet, you can reduce your risk of having a concussion by about 85%.
  • Always make sure your helmet fits well and is properly adjusted. That usually means that it is covering your forehead down to just above your eyebrows. Do not wear a helmet that is too small for you or that is sitting well back on your head so that your forehead is exposed.

Taking good care of yourself after a concussion is essential. If you injure your brain again during the time it is still healing, it will take even more time to completely heal.

The facts

  • A concussion is a brain injury.
  • All concussions are serious.
  • Concussions can occur without loss of consciousness.
  • Concussions can occur in any sport or activity when the head is hit or strongly jostled.
  • Recognition and proper management of concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death.

How Dangerous is a concussion?

A number of complications may develop from a concussion:

Second Impact Syndrome: This occurs when a person experiences a second concussion before the symptoms from the first concussion have resolved. When this happens, the brain may develop severe, life threatening swelling. Although rare, this may occur even after a mild concussion. Click here to watch a video of a football player who suffered Second Impact Syndrome.

Post Concussion Syndrome: Post-concussion syndrome occurs when a patient is experiencing physical injuries, emotional distress, and thinking difficulties following a concussion or physically traumatic event. These symptoms interact with each other, resulting in a person experiencing problems which are much more impactful to them than if they were experiencing only individual symptoms.

In other words, as a personís physical injuries become more pronounced and fail to go away, that condition results in a person experiencing increased emotional distress and increased difficulty in thinking clearly. Think about it, if you experience a headache that wonít go away, after just a few weeks you will surely begin to feel more irritable, have less patience, begin worrying that something might be seriously wrong with you, and start to have problems concentrating, paying attention, and occasionally forgetting some things.

Similarly, if because of an injury you are unable to work, you may begin worrying quite a bit about financial issues, your ability to pay your bills, whether you are going to be fired from your job, and whether you are going to continue to be able to meet your responsibilities to your family. With all of these worries, you may experience an increased feeling of tension in your back, shoulders, and neck, you may experience an increase in your headaches, and you may begin to have difficulty sleeping because of all the worries running around in your head. Additionally, all of these worries and concerns may cause you to have difficulty paying attention, concentrating, or thinking clearly.

Finally, a concussion can cause your thinking to be temporarily altered. If you begin to pay more attention to this alteration in your thinking, that may lead to increased worry about your health and your future, and the effects of a concussion can cause some increased physical difficulties such as balance difficulties, dizziness, nausea, or ringing in the ears.

As you can see, difficulties in one area can cause an increase in problems in the other two areas. The result can be a vicious cycle of problems feeding on themselves and resulting in problems which last a long time unless treated. Effective treatment for post-concussion syndrome involves intervention in all three areas at the same time. By doing so the cycle is broken, and you begin to feel better faster.

In rare situations some of the symptoms described above may continue for a month or more. If a concussed individual continues to have symptoms it is important to receive medical care from a head injury specialist with training in the treatment of Post Concussive Syndrome.

Remember, injuries to the brain from concussion are cumulative. This means that if a person has had one concussion they are more likely to get another concussion. Repeated concussions can cause permanent injury to the brain. The more concussions an individual has, the more likely a person is to develop long term problems. Typically, symptoms become more severe and are more numerous, and recovery is much slower, with each successive concussion.