What is a Concussion?
Experts often classify a concussion as a mild head injury with temporary loss of brain function.
A concussion actually consists of both brain injury and neck injury (whether you feel neck pain or not). When you suffer a concussion, the muscles of the neck and upper back act as a suspension system to protect the brain. Damage to neck muscles can cause restricted blood flow to the brain – producing or exacerbating specific concussion-related symptoms, including physical, cognitive, and emotional repercussions.
A concussion can arise from not only a direct blow to the head, but also from a whiplash effect. In the majority of cases, the individual does not lose consciousness. The actual incident that can cause a concussion can be as unique as the person sustaining the concussion. The following are just a few common possible causes:
Automobile accidents—When a vehicle suddenly loses speed or stops dead, it can cause the brain to jar (bash, bump hard) against the skull causing a concussion.
Sports injuries— Particularly common in contact sports such as martial arts, boxing, rugby, football, and hockey. However, concussions can also occur in non-contact sports such as soccer, snowboarding and skiing, etc.
Falls— Any fall that results in a jarring, or severe bump to the head can cause a concussion. Most commonly this occurs in very young children and elderly individuals as a result of a fall.
Cycling accidents—Cycling accidents can be a common cause for a concussion. These accidents may be the result of road hazards, construction and not wearing proper helmets to protect the head.
How does a concussion happen?
The brain is protected from bumps and jolts by the cerebral fluid; however, a direct blow to the head or whiplash can cause the brain to bump against the skull resulting in the tearing of nerve fibres and the rupturing of blood vessels located under the skull. Additional damage to neck muscles will cause added nerve pressure and restricted blood flow, creating an environment in which the brain cannot heal itself.
Can a concussion be prevented?
Unfortunately, not all head injuries can be easily avoided but here are some tips to help minimize the risk of a concussion:
- Seat belts: Being held in your seat and potentially preventing you from a blow to the head, seat belts can protect you from serious injury including a concussion during a traffic accident. *Although seat belts can potentially prevent a blow to the head, a whiplash injury to the neck may still occur and cause a concussion.
- Safe home: Falls around the home are a common cause of a concussion. Keeping your home well lit and free of anything that could cause a fall can help.
- Childproofing: Using gates to block stairways and window guards can help lessen the risk of head injuries in young children.
- Regular Exercise: Building strength and endurance in the neck muscles can act as a “shock absorber” for the brain and support for the head.
What are the symptoms of a concussion? The symptoms of a concussion fall within 4 broad categories:
Physical • Cognitive • Emotional & Behavioural • Sleep Disturbance
Signs and Symptoms
Immediate signs may include:
- Loss of consciousness (though the majority of concussions do not involve loss of consciousness)
- Slurred speech
- Ringing in the ears
The following may not be noticeable for several hours,
or even days:
- Lack of concentration
- Disturbed sleep
- Sensitivity to sounds
- Sensitivity to light
Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) refers to the ongoing symptoms following a concussion. It is often diagnosed when a person who has recently suffered a head injury continues to experience symptoms for about 3 months following a concussion. Concussion symptoms can begin to occur immediately or within days of the head injury, but sometimes they can take weeks to appear. For those who suffer from PCS, life can be difficult and the symptoms unbearable. There is no one way to diagnose PCS, as the symptoms vary for each patient. Although getting rest is often recommended after a concussion, it can perpetuate the psychological symptoms of PCS.
What Causes Post-Concussion Syndrome?
It is not understood why certain patients develop Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) and others do not. The severity of the concussion seems to play no role in the likelihood of developing PCS.
Who Is at Risk for Post-Concussion Syndrome?
Anyone who has recently suffered a concussion can be at risk for Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). A person is more likely to develop PCS if they are over the age of 40. It seems that women are more likely to suffer from PCS, however this could be because women tend to be more likely to seek medical care for their symptoms. As several of the symptoms are similar to those associated with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, people with pre-existing psychological conditions may be more likely to develop PCS after a concussion.
What Are the Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome?
After a concussion, a doctor may diagnose Post-Concussion Syndrome by the presence of any of the following symptoms:
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleeping problems
- Personality changes
- Sensitivity to noise and light