Elizabeth Smoots, MD
A concussion is an injury to your brain that causes problems with how the brain works. It can affect brain tasks like memory, balance, concentration, judgement, and coordination.
Most will have a full recovery but the brain will need time to heal with the proper rest and monitoring.
A concussion is caused by a sudden, violent jolt to the brain. The force can cause stretching and tearing to the brain and soft tissue that supports it. Forces that can cause this type of damage include:
Factors that may increase your chance of a concussion include:
Concussions most often occur with:
A concussion can cause symptoms that may last for days, weeks, or even longer. They may be immediately present or appear a few hours or days after the injury. The symptoms that develop will depend on the severity of the injury. More common symptoms are listed below.
Physical symptoms may include:
Mental and emotional symptoms may include:
A doctor should be consulted if serious symptoms like confusion and vomiting occur or if symptoms get worse.
Young children may not be able to clearly communicate symptoms. Talk to a doctor if the child has had a head injury and is showing any of the following symptoms:
You will be asked about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Others who witnessed the accident may also be asked to describe what happened and how you reacted. A physical exam will be done. It will often include brief tests for strength, sensation, balance, reflexes, and memory. The doctor will often be able to diagnose a concussion based on the exam and history.
A CT scan may be done if there are severe symptoms or certain risk factors but are not always needed.
The brain can often heal on its own with rest and avoiding activities that may be harmful while it heals. Symptoms will gradually fade during recovery.
The brain will need full rest at first. This means adjusting physical activities and decreasing mentally-demanding tasks. Early in recovery, activities that need concentration like work or schoolwork will need to be avoided. For children this also includes avoiding video games, watching television, computer activities, or texting.
Mental and physical activities will gradually be added once initial symptoms improve. Symptoms, balance, cognition and tolerance to current activity levels will be tested throughout recovery. This information will be used to decide if further rest is needed or it is time to progress to the next step. Returning to mental or physical activities too quickly can make symptoms worse and slow the recovery process.
The brain is more vulnerable to injuries while it is healing. Re-injury can lead to more severe or long-term symptoms. Precautions should be taken with:
Second head injury can be especially dangerous in children and adolescents (second impact syndrome). Even a mild second head injury in children and adolescents can lead to serious damage to the brain. This can lead to unconsciousness and even death.
A closed head injury is often the result of an accident which can be difficult to prevent. To decrease the chance of severe injuries during an accident:
To prevent accidents at home that can lead to concussions:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Brain Injury Association of Canada
Ontario Brain Injury Association
Concussion and mild traumatic brain injury. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116529/Concussion-and-mild-traumatic-brain-injury. Updated March 31, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Harmon KG. Assessment and management of concussion in sports.
Am Fam Physician.
Halstead ME, Walter KD, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical report--sport-related concussion in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2010 Sep;126(3):597-615. full-text
Kirkwood MW, Yeates KO, Wilson PE. Pediatric sport-related concussion: a review of the clinical management of an oft-neglected population.
Mild traumatic brain injury/Concussions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/recovery.html. Updated January 22, 2016. Accessed February 11, 2016.
Pearce JM. Observations on concussion: a review.
Ro YS, Shin SD, Holmes JF, et al. Comparison of clinical performance of cranial
computed tomography rules in patients with minor head injury: a multicenter prospective study.
Acad Emerg Med.
Sports-related concussion information for athletes. Wesleyan University Athletic Injury Care website. Available at:
Updated January 2007. Accessed February 11, 2016.
Traumatic brain injury. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
Updated February 9, 2016. Accessed February 11, 2016.
10/5/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116529/Concussion-and-mild-traumatic-brain-injury: Parikh SN, Wilson L. Hazardous use of car seats outside the car in the United States, 2003-2007. Pediatrics. 2010;126(2):352-357.
12/10/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116529/Concussion-and-mild-traumatic-brain-injury: Bakhos LL, Lockhart GR, Myers R, Linakis JG. Emergency department visits for concussion in young child athletes. Pediatrics. 2010;126(3):e550-556.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Information Services. All rights reserved.