It’s crucial to understand the truth about concussions. These mild traumatic brain injuries are dangerous and knowing the symptoms and when to seek medical care can help you recover without complications. Steven Erickson, MD, a sports medicine physician at Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ, shares the truth about some common myths related to concussions.
Myth: Concussion is only a problem in sports.
Fact: “Concussions can occur with any trauma to the head or body that puts force on the brain,” Dr. Erickson said. You can develop a concussion from a blow to the head, bumping your head when you fall, being shaken or being injured in a car accident.
Myth: Concussion is strictly a physical injury.
Fact: Concussion is a complex diagnosis with physical, intellectual, emotional and psychological effects.
Myth: It’s not a concussion unless you are knocked out.
Fact: Only about 5% of people lose consciousness when they get a concussion. “And loss of consciousness does not mean that a concussion will be more serious,” Dr. Erickson said.
Symptoms of concussion can include:
- Headache or neck pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Vision changes
- Numbness or tingling
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Trouble sleeping
- Memory loss
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling “not right”
- Dizziness or balance issues
- Feeling unusually emotional, nervous or sad
Myth: You can return to sports right away after a blow to the head.
Fact: Returning to play with a concussion can result in a more serious injury. No athlete should return to play after a head injury without being evaluated by a health care provider.
“Athletes need to be honest with coaches, athletic trainers, parents and physicians about their symptoms,” Dr. Erickson said. “Athletes should not return to sports until they have completely recovered from concussion.” That means symptoms have resolved and visual, balance and cognitive testing is normal.
“Most people believe that concussions last for about a week,” Dr. Erickson said. But actually, the average recovery time for high school and college athletes is 14 to 21 days.
Myth: Getting a concussion doesn’t affect a child’s risk of getting another one in the future.
Fact: Concussions tend to repeat. A child who has one concussion is 1.5 times more likely to have another, and a child who has two concussions is three times more likely to have another.
Myth: Equipment such as the right helmet can prevent concussions.
Fact: Although helmets are important, no football, hockey, baseball, bicycle or other helmet or headgear can entirely prevent concussions. However, helmets can decrease the severity of a head injury and may prevent skull fractures and bleeding inside the skull.
Myth: You can diagnose a concussion with a CT scan or MRI.
Fact: CT scans and MRIs can’t diagnose concussions. To diagnose a concussion, a health care provider will take a complete medical history and perform a physical exam. A doctor might order a CT scan to look for bleeding within or around the brain, but not to diagnose a concussion. CT scans and MRIs aren’t helpful in deciding whether a player can return to sports.
Myth: You can recover from a concussion at home.
Fact: Some concussions need immediate medical care. Call 911 or visit the emergency room if symptoms include:
- A headache that gets worse
- One pupil that appears larger than the other
- Slurred speech, weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
- The inability to recognize people or places
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Convulsions (shaking or twitching)
- Unusual behavior, increased confusion, restlessness or agitation
- Loss of consciousness or excessive drowsiness
- Refusal to nurse or eat (for infants or toddlers)
- Inability to stop crying or be consoled (for children)
Myth: Baseline testing will help prevent concussions.
Fact: Baseline testing measures your cognitive abilities, balance, eye movement and fine motor skills when you do not have a concussion. It gives health care providers a better picture of how your brain functioned to evaluate a possible concussion. It does not prevent brain injury.
Baseline testing, like the BrainStamp, can provide a “fingerprint” that illustrates how the brain functions normally and can make it faster to diagnose a concussion. “Baseline testing is valuable in making return-to-play decisions because we can compare post-injury testing to baseline testing,” Dr. Erickson said.
The bottom line
Concussions can be dangerous, and there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding this type of brain injury. It’s important to understand the facts, so any concussion is properly diagnosed and treated. To connect with a sports medicine or brain injury expert, reach out to Banner Health.