What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a disturbance in brain function that occurs following either a blow to the head or as a result of the violent shaking of the head.

Common signs and symptoms include headaches, nausea, fatigue, visual problems, balance problems, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, numbness/tingling, vomiting, dizziness. Other signs can include problems with thinking and memory; emotional problems like irritability, sadness, feeling more emotional, nervousness; and sleep issues like drowsiness, sleeping more than usual, sleeping less than usual, trouble falling asleep.

If a concussion is suspected during a sporting event, the athlete should be removed from play or practice immediately. When in doubt, sit them out. New WIAA rules say if an athlete has a concussion they cannot return to play until OKed by a medical expert.

Anyone who sustains a head injury and is “knocked out,” has a convulsion, loses consciousness, is confused or disoriented, has persistent vomiting, or appears concerning in any other way should seek medical attention as soon as possible. If any of these symptoms appear, call 911 immediately.

If the athlete appears well and medical attention is not readily available, then it is reasonable to monitor the athlete at home. Coaches should contact a parent or guardian to make them aware of the potential situation.

Some medical providers have very little experience diagnosing and managing concussions. But it matters so make sure to inquire. A medical history and physical examinations are performed to rule out serious problems. It is important to know that traditional CT scans or MRIs do not aid in the diagnosis of concussions, however they are very beneficial in ruling out more serious problems, such as skull fracture or brain bleed. A concussion is a metabolic imbalance that does not show up on a CT scan or MRI so a negative result on any of these tests does not mean an injury did not occur.

All physicians at ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus-Sports Medicine are trained in concussion diagnosis/management. All physicians at ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus-Sports Medicine are Certified ImPACT Consultants. ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) uses a battery of tests of memory, reaction time, and processing speed, which provides specific information regarding the severity of the injury and a standard for evaluating recovery from injury to take the guesswork out of concussion management and return to play decisions.

Treatment includes cognitive and physical rest. Most concussions heal within a few days to a few weeks.

By Richard Canlas, MD, Musculoskeletal and Sports Medicine Physician at ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus in New London.