Concussions: What You Need To Know

Jonathan Raskow, LAT, ATC
Athletic Trainer, RWJ University Hospital Hamilton

August is #NeurosurgeryAwarenessMonth, with the goal being to bring neurological conditions to the forefront and share knowledge that will enlighten the public to what it means to live with and be treated for these conditions. For 2020, the spotlight is on the prevention and treatment of head injuries in children. One type of head injury is a concussion, and here is what you need to know.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is defined as a “trauma-induced alteration in mental status that may or may not involve loss of consciousness.” This can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. A concussion can also occur without a direct hit to the head, such as with whiplash. Concussion signs and symptoms can appear immediately or not be noticed until days or even weeks after the injury.

Common symptoms of concussion:

Symptoms vary by individual, and someone may have any combination of the following – confusion, headache, vision disturbances (double or blurry vision), dizziness or imbalance, nausea or vomiting, memory loss, ringing ears, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to light, loss of smell or taste, trouble falling asleep, increase of symptoms with mental and/or physical activity after hitting one’s head.

Ways to reduce the risk of concussions:

General Tips: Wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle, remove hazards around the home that contribute to falls, and use hand rails and safety gates around stairs. Never use out dated or damaged protective equipment, avoid uneven or unpaved surfaces when cycling, and do not dive in water less than 9 feet deep or in above ground swimming pools.

Sports Tips: Use protective head gear and helmets appropriate to the sport, be sure your head gear is ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) approved and fits properly, and ALWAYS use proper form when participating in collision/contact sports.

Management if a concussion occurs:

Anyone who suspects they have a concussion, or, if you suspect someone of having a concussion, removal from the activity IMMEDIATELY is most important. It’s important to allot time to heal. Another concussion sustained while the brain is healing can result in long-term problems or even death in rare cases. Only a health care professional experienced with concussion management, such as an athletic trainer or physician, can tell if a concussion has occurred and assist with a safe return to play/work. Every concussion is different for each individual, thus no two plans are exactly the same and emphasis should be placed on treating each person’s/athlete’s unique set of symptoms.

Treatment/Recovery:

Your licensed healthcare professional will guide you. At RWJBarnabas Health, we follow our Concussion Pillars for Recovery! In general, here’s how to address common concerns:

  • Low level exercise to tolerance, such as a walking program (when cleared for starting activity), avoiding any increase in symptoms
  • Restore vision and ocular-motor control if deficits arise
  • Cervical and spinal physical therapy if it is determined that symptoms are stemming from the neck
  • Seek behavioral/cognitive help from a professional when needed
  • Complete health-care professional guided graduated return to activity before full clearance

concussion pillars for recovery infographic

Get treatment early! Lost time = Longer Recovery

Have further questions about concussions or in need support? Email us at AthleticTraining@rwjbh.org. Read more about our Neurosurgery program including our sports-related cardiac and concussion screening services.