Recognizing Concussion Symptoms in Athletes

It feels like during just about every NFL or college football game that you watch lately there is a player going off to the sidelines for a concussion evaluation—the tent goes up and after a few minutes they come out and the player either goes to the locker room or back to the field. Most people have heard the long discussion about the risks of concussion, CTE and how to make the game safer. But how many people actually could recognize a concussion or even know that girls are more likely than boys to get a concussion?

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that effects the brains overall function. Think of it like a bruise on the brain, which is why the vast majority of concussion show no changes on CT scan or MRI.

The brain is suspended in the skull in a fluid (called Cerebrospinal fluid) that creates a cushion around the brain. A concussion is caused by a blow to the head that is too hard for the cerebral spinal fluid to stop the brain from bumping up against the inside of the skull causing a bruise. That blow can be caused by a direct hit to the head, the head bouncing off the ground or a violent shaking of the head and upper body. The violent head shaking or head bouncing off the floor is increased when the athlete’s neck is not strong enough to slow the head as they fall to the ground or shake. Studies show that girls’ neck strength is not as developed as the corresponding boys their age in sports that are played by both boys and girls—thus the higher risk of concussions in girls. While girls have a higher incidence of concussion, they also seem to demonstrate a more rapid recovery from their symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Concussions?

Concussion symptoms usually occur within minutes of the injury, but can progress and worsen for a few hours to a couple days. Concussion symptoms vary in intensity and frequency between individuals.

The most common symptoms of a concussion is a headache, but athletes may also display the following symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Feeling in a “fog”

  • Difficulty remembering

  • Nausea/vomiting