Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). They are caused by a hit to the body or a blow or jolt to the head or that forces the brain to move rapidly back and forth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition of concussion, this sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain.
Concussions are sometimes called “mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs).” In this case, “mild” refers to the fact that concussions are not generally life threatening. It is a common myth that concussions are not serious; they can be devastating if not attended to properly.
Symptoms of Concussion
Symptoms of concussion vary and may present differently for different people. They may onset immediately or appear hours or days after injury. Common concussion symptoms include:
- Changes to sleep
- Vision issues
Signs of immediate danger after concussion include repeat vomiting and loss of consciousness, seizures, slurred speech, and more.
Next Steps After Concussion
If you believe you have sustained a concussion, seek help. Brain injury is a serious condition and should be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare professional. For many individuals who sustain concussions, if they rest adequately and take care not to re-injure themselves, they can expect symptoms to diminish within 2-3 weeks. For others, the aftereffects of concussion can be a lifelong challenge. It is essential to receive adequate assessment and follow-up care after injury. There are a number of options for concussion recovery including seeing a neuropsychiatrist, physical therapist, and physiatrist. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can take place at an emergency room, an urgent care, or a primary care physician. If you are in any immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 911.
Most concussions can resolve with good early evaluation, identification, patient education, and good early symptom management. However, there are people who sustain a concussion and do not recover within the expected time frame. It is important for people who have symptoms that are not improving to connect with a professional who understands concussion recovery.
Concussion clinics generally are divided into two types of programs: those that provide early after injury care and those that provide later care for post-concussion syndrome. Some clinics offer both; others specialize in just one area of care. The challenge is there is no easy way to tell if a clinic offers one or both types of services. It will be up to the person seeking treatment to ask questions to make sure the program is the right fit for their needs.
What Do Early Care Concussion Clinics Do?
These clinics typically offer baseline testing (for athletes playing a sport at school), and they treat a person for a month or so after the concussion and guide the person in slowly increasing their physical and mental activity levels to ensure a smooth transition back to school and/or sports. Current return-to-play guidelines recommend the person complete a series of increasingly challenging physical tests without return of symptoms before final clearance to play. (This is known as “step-wise progression.”). They offer patient and family education, baseline and treatment testing to evaluate how well the recovery is progressing. Some concussion clinics limit their services to sports-related injuries; others do not. Evaluation and treatment/rehabilitation are the focus of these clinics.
Post-Concussion Syndrome Clinics
A clinic that treats post-concussion syndrome will usually have multiple professionals that offer specialized evaluation and treatment for ongoing issues. The key to a good concussion clinic is having an interdisciplinary approach where qualified, licensed clinicians are able to treat within their area of expertise while working with a team of professionals to offer coordinated care. For those who suffer beyond the typical recovery time frame, following best-practice treatments can be effective and help the person return to pre-injury activity levels. There are no requirements as to the types of professionals, but they can include:
- Physiatrists (Doctors of Rehabilitation Medicine)
- Physical Therapist
Questions to Ask a Clinic When Contacting Them
- Do you treat both sports and non-sports related concussions?
- Do you have a team of professionals at the clinic to help identify and treat symptoms?
- Do you refer people out to other programs for some services?
- Do you have any patient education materials you can share or suggest?
- Can you help explain my symptoms/issues to my school/employer?
- How long does treatment usually last?
Have a question? Contact the National Brain Injury Information Center 1-800-444-6443.