What is a concussion?

A concussion is categorized as a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a blow, bump or jolt to the head and/or body causing the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. Concussions can typically occur from a fall or blow to the body.

Many people believe that you must experience loss of consciousness or be "knocked out" to have sustained a concussion; however, that is not accurate. The majority of concussions do not involve any loss of consciousness. In fact, less than 90 percent of all concussions sustained in sports are considered to be mild and may be characterized by transient confusion, or a brief duration of post-traumatic amnesia, or PTA, but result in no loss of consciousness (LOC).

Every year there are about 300,000 cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occur in a sports and/or recreation setting. About 90 percent of sports-related TBIs are mild (mTBI) and may go unreported. Concussions are extremely common in U.S. football, resulting in nearly 250,000 concussions per year. Additionally, this type of injury is most common at the high school level where it is estimated that 20 percent of high school football players will sustain a concussion every season as compared to the 10 percent of college football players and 13 percent of NFL players. 

It is believe that the higher rates of incidence in the younger athletes are due to smaller neck sizes and poor tackling technique. Although, concussions can also occur in any contact sport including soccer, hockey, rugby and several others.

If you suspect someone has suffered a concussion, please consider if the following has occurred:

  • A direct blow to the head, face, neck, or elsewhere on the body with an “impulsive” force transmitted to the head.
  • A rapid onset of short-lived impairment of neurological function that resolves spontaneously.
  • An onset of neuropathological changes, but the acute clinical symptoms largely reflect a functional disturbance rather than structural injury.
  • A graded set of clinical syndromes that may or may not involve loss of consciousness. Resolution of the clinical and cognitive symptoms typically follows a sequential course.
  • Association with grossly normal structural neuroimaging studies such as an MRI scan or CT scan; however, it is important to note that since a concussion does NOT show up on an MRI or CT scan, these tests may come back as normal, but does not indicate that the athlete didn't suffer a concussion.  A clear MRI or CT scan does not mean that the athlete is clear of a concussion injury.

For more information regarding concussions and their impact on sports, please watch the following video of Dr. Andrew Blecher, sports medicine doctor and concussion expert at Southern California Orthopedic Institute. To find out more about the signs, symptoms and evaluation of concussions, please click the links below.