Concussion Signs and Symptoms to Watch

The arrival of autumn means that it’s finally football and soccer season! Athletes can’t wait to grab their gear and hit the field for their favorite sports activities. One drawback of the season though? It’s also a prime time for sports injuries, including concussions.

While any sport presents the possibility for injuries, both soccer and football are sports where injuries are common, and athletes may sustain a head injury. An estimated 20% of high school athletes experience a concussion during a given sports season, with about 50% of concussions occurring in high school football practice or games

With such a high rate of head injuries among student athletes, it’s vital to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms. Matt Pitton, PT, explains the symptoms of a concussion and shares his tips for prevention. 

What Are the Signs of a Concussion?

To prevent concussions, it’s essential to understand what happens when an athlete sustains such an injury. A concussion is a mild brain injury that can occur from a direct blow to the head or hitting the ground violently. Concussions most commonly occur from car accidents, falls, and sports injuries.

If an athlete sustains a blow to the head on the field, it’s important to recognize concussion signs right away. Here are the typical indications that an athlete may have suffered a concussion:

  • The player may appear dazed or confused.
  • They may give delayed responses to questions or have slurred speech.
  • The athlete may report dizziness, fatigue, or a headache.
  • Some players may experience nausea or vomiting after a concussion.
  • They may have amnesia surrounding the event (they may not remember a few minutes before or after the injury).
  • The player may report “ringing” in their ears.
  • During some injuries, a player may experience a loss of consciousness (blacking out or getting “knocked out”).

When a concussion happens, it’s important to seek medical treatment right away. Some head injuries can accompany other injuries, such as those to the neck and spine. After a head injury or reporting any of the above signs of a concussion, athletes should be evaluated by a professional.

It’s also important to note that sometimes a head injury doesn’t seem severe at first. Concussions can occur during falls or bumps, where the athlete might not realize they’re injured. Symptoms can come on right away or may occur slowly after the injury.

Concussion Signs and Recovery

Historically, many people thought concussions would simply resolve on their own in a few days or weeks. But experts have now realized that concussions can result in longer-term effects and concerns, with some individuals continuing to suffer post-concussive symptoms over a month after injury. Therefore, it’s important to have head injuries evaluated by a professional.

It’s also important to be aware of the signs of a concussion that may occur well after the injury. Symptoms of a concussion fall into four categories:

  1. Physical concussion symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and fatigue (as well as the immediate concussion signs described above).
  2. Cognitive symptoms of a concussion include problems with memory and issues with concentration and focus.
  3. Sleep symptoms include difficulty falling asleep or waking up throughout the night. Fatigue is also a sign of a concussion.
  4. Emotional symptoms can include irritability or anger. Some people with concussions may experience depression as well.

Traditionally, practitioners have prescribed a combination of physical and cognitive rest to help individuals recover from a concussion. However, recent research has shown that monitored activity and exercise can speed up healing and help get athletes back on track. Work under the guidance of a trusted practitioner, but your treatment options for a concussion may include:

  • Cervical spine manual therapy
  • Balance training
  • Gradual progression of activity
  • Vision training
  • Functional return to sports or hobbies

The good news is that athletes often prefer the active approach to recovery. When they listen to their practitioner and their bodies, they may find themselves feeling better faster than expected.

Tips for Avoiding Concussions

As with many injuries, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to concussions. The best approach is to take safety precautions whenever possible.

Of course, it’s impossible to avoid a concussion during an unexpected accident or injury, but for athletes engaged in contact sports, there are several precautions they can take to help avoid sustaining a concussion during practice and play.

When athletes participate in play or practice, they should be sure to:

  • Wear properly fitted helmets or headgear.
  • Learn the proper technique for tackling or checking for the sport.
  • Avoid taking extra chances assuming headgear provides enough protection.
  • Strengthen upper body and neck muscles.
  • Follow proper conditioning techniques for the sport.
  • Warm-up before participation.
  • Always listen to the rules and instructions.

Should you experience a head injury or any signs of a concussion, it’s important to get assessed by a professional right away. Our physical therapists are trained thoroughly in evaluating and treating your concussion symptoms. Our goal is to help you manage your symptoms and get you back to your prior activity level without limitations.

If you have sustained a concussion, our talented concussion specialists are here to help. Make an appointment today at one of our physical therapy locations and get help with managing your symptoms, improving your daily function, and returning to the activities you previously enjoyed.