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Concussion Signs, Symptoms and Red Flags

Unreported Concussions

By Kieran Loving, ATC

It seems everywhere you turn you see something about concussions and head injuries in the news, sports or media. However, there is still lots of confusion and misunderstanding surrounding concussions. What is a concussion? Why does it happen? What do we do to treat it? Most people believe that a concussion will just get better on its own within 7-10 days like the common cold or flu. Let’s camp out here for a moment.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions. Think about a computer with a software problem not a hardware problem. That’s a concussion. The MRI’s, CT scans and imaging will all show nothing! So we must be all good, right? False! When our software is damaged, we cannot run all our processes normally. This includes your icon for emotions, memory, motor function, learning and any number of processing issues contained within our brains.

What are the signs and symptoms to look for?

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy or ‘slower’ than usual
  • Difficulty walking
  • Poor balance
  • Sensitivity to light and/or noise
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Irrational or irregular behavior

RED FLAGS

  • Unconsciousness OR abrupt changes in consciousness
  • Increased confusion or irritability
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • UNequal pupils
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech or inability to speak
  • Inability to recognize people or places
  • Worsening headaches

Post-Concussion Guidelines:

    • Monitor for the next 24 hours. Look for any worsening signs or symptoms.
  • SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL EXAMINATION BY A TRAINED HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL!
  • Remember that there is no diagnostic imaging for a concussion. X-rays, MRIs, CT scans will NOT show concussions.  They need an evaluation by someone who is trained in concussion management!
  • Do not allow the patient to take any pain medications. This will allow you to see if the concussion is healing on its own without the masking of medicines like Tylenol or Advil. Pain medications usually don’t have any effect on concussion headaches anyway.
  • Avoid things such as television, computer or video games, and other mentally strenuous activities including reading, writing and mathematics. Remember, a concussion is a brain injury.
  • If any of the above symptoms or red flags gets worse, go to the emergency room as soon as possible.

What can happen if the athlete returns to play too soon?

  • Children’s brains are still growing, which means they need to allow the brain to heal from a concussion before returning to play. A concussion for a child can have more of a negative effect than for an adult because their brain is still in a development stage.
  • The possibility of conditions like post-concussion syndrome and second impact syndrome can occur.
    • Post-concussion syndrome: various signs and symptoms can last for several weeks or months following a concussion that is not fully healed.
    • Second impact syndrome: if the brain is not fully healed from the first concussion, a second impact to the head can lead to fatality in individuals under the age of 23.

The best available evidence tells us that gradually returning to activity is very important to recovery. Balancing rest and activity are also important to recovery and a full return to regular activities after concussion. People need the heal and guidance of a trained healthcare professional to ensure they are returning to activities with zero residual symptoms. The concept of resting the brain is important and requires staying away from thinking, learning, memorizing and even things like reading, texting, computer time and watching TV for the first day or two following an injury. It also includes physical rest. A gradual return to activities, as long as it does not make things worse, is the best approach. Communication between the student, parents, healthcare professionals and school staff is vital so that everyone understands the student’s specific needs for getting the proper balance of rest and activity based on his or her individual needs.

Here at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center, we specialize in individually tailored programs designed just for you and your brain. Just like no two brains are the same, no two concussion patients will need the exact same return to activity guidelines. There is no cookie cutter approach and the education and skill needed to treat concussions changes on an annual basis. Our concussion specialists have over 15 years experience treating concussions especially youth and athletic population. Please let us help with your concussion so that you can return to activities needed for a healthy and happy life. Call our office TODAY at 3-450-4300 and find out how we can help you or help your team with baseline concussion testing and concussion management. 

CLICK HERE to learn more about concussion management and how we do this at LSTC. 

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