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Sports Concussions: Types and Symptoms

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that affects millions of people in the world every year. At least 10 percent of all those who experienced a TBI received it as a result of playing some type of contact sport.

Statistics show that a player who suffers a sports concussion is three times more likely to get another concussion, with 92% of those who experience a repeat sports concussion finding it occurs within 10 days of the first one.

What is a Sports Concussion?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a concussion as “a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—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 rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.”

A sports concussion is caused by a low-velocity injury that causes the brain to shake. The sports-related concussion:

  • May be caused by a direct blow to anywhere on the body that results in force transmitted to the head.
  • The concussion causes the person to have an immediate impairment of neurological functions. In some, the effect is short-lived. Others do not have symptoms for hours or even days and it takes longer for them to recover if they ever do. Others never recover.
  • Often, neuroimaging studies appear normal, but the person has functional deficits such that a diagnosis of concussion is warranted.
  • There is a wide range of clinical symptoms that may be present. In some cases, the symptoms last for a very long time.

A person does not necessarily lose consciousness. Some people who suffer a concussion have no immediate effect. They think they are fine until they begin experiencing symptoms. Only then do they relate their symptoms back to their head injury.

When playing contact sports, a shaking of the brain within the skull can be so severe that nerve fibers and neurons are damaged. Severe concussions can result in extended periods of unconsciousness, coma, or even death.

Symptoms of any type of Concussion

Even if an injured person seems to be fine and has no immediate symptoms, the person must be watched closely for hours to see if symptoms develop. Symptoms fall into four main categories:

Cognitive Issues

  • Muddled thinking.
  • Feeling mentally sluggish.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Unable to remember things, particularly new information.
  • Cannot recall events either immediately prior to or immediately after the concussion causing event.
  • Forgets or is confused by instructions or position in the game.
  • Has difficulty or inability to follow directions.
  • Answers questions slowly.
  • Shortened attention span.
  • Easily distracted.
  • In speech, has difficulty with finding the right word; Has slurred speech, and/or difficulty in expressing thoughts.

Physical, Motor, and Sensory Changes

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Light and/or noise sensitivity.
  • Changes in the ability to see, hear and taste.
  • Balance problems.
  • Inability to control motor function.
  • Clumsy movements.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Lack of energy.

Emotional Problems

  • Emotionally sensitive.
  • Mood, behavior, or personality changes.

Sleep Interference

  • Sleeping either more or less than normal.
  • Difficulty in falling asleep.

Symptoms may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.

Need for Immediate Medical Attention

Although many brain injuries caused by sports concussions are thought to resolve themselves within a week or two, research shows that there are long-term effects from minor impacts, especially when those minor impacts recur. Players are cautioned not to return to play too soon. They need to fully recover and work to prevent a second TBI.

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