Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head or body, the force of which gets transmitted to the brain. The trauma causes the brain to violently shift within the skull, which results in neurochemical changes that impair brain function and cause symptoms, such as loss of balance, severe headaches, dizziness, and double or blurred vision and trouble sleeping. Concussion can also make the brain more sensitive to increased stress or injury.
Fortunately, most concussions are mild (not life threatening) with full recovery expected. But some can be more serious. If you suspect you or a loved one has experienced a concussion, it’s important to see an Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey (OINJ) doctor immediately.
Concussion is particularly prevalent in children and teens who participate in high-risk sports, such as football, ice hockey, soccer, lacrosse, snowboarding, boxing, and rugby; but falls and auto accidents are another leading cause in people of all ages.
In many cases, a concussion does not cause loss of consciousness and the signs may not be immediately noticeable. Concussion symptoms may last days or weeks depending upon the extent of the injury.
If you suspect concussion in yourself or a loved one, seek a medical evaluation from an experienced healthcare professional immediately. Professionals trained in pediatric concussions should evaluate children and adolescents.
To diagnose concussion, expect to undergo several tests, including a neurological examination, which will assess balance, coordination, hearing, reflexes, strength, sensation and vision.
Cognitive testing will evaluate your ability to recall information, concentration and memory.
Imaging tests may be used if your symptoms are worsening with time. Cranial computerized tomography (CT) scan can help determine the extent of injury by creating cross-sectional images of the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help determine whether bleeding/swelling has occurred in the skull.
If your OINJ doctor diagnoses concussion, resting -- in other words, using your brain as little as possible until symptoms abate -- is the best remedy. But gradually adding light physical activity can help the brain heal.
When young people experience a concussion, new research shows that they’re more likely to return to full function and less likely to have long term problems if they rest at home for four to seven days, avoiding stress and exertion, then begin aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming and bicycling at a light level that doesn’t trigger symptoms, such as headache, dizziness, vomiting or nausea. Concussion sufferers should gradually be able to do more and more, until they return to full activity.
The good news is that if appropriately managed, most people with concussion will heal within one month.
There’s no perfect test for immediately diagnosing concussion. But baseline testing, a computer-based assessment that takes about 30-45 minutes, can help your OINJ doctor determine if a concussion has occurred.
This test, taken before the athlete’s exposure to training or competition, can be compared to the post-injury test to detect a concussion.
It’s extremely important for concussion sufferers to avoid a second concussion. If a child has just one concussion in his or her life, the risk of early onset dementia changes very little. But if a child gets two or more concussions, the child has an increased risk of premature brain degeneration. The old, non-scientific guideline promoted by coaches: ‘Three strikes (concussions) and you’re out’ is being replaced by the new, medically rational guideline: ‘One and done.’
To make an appointment with an OINJ doctor for a baseline concussion assessment, call (908) 684-3005.