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3 Concussion Myths: Busted


Concussions are among the most common – and potentially dangerous – injuries seen in sports medicine. Part of the danger surrounding them is the abundance of misinformation spread by word of mouth among the athletic population, plus false information that’s readily available and shared on the Internet. Education is the best shield to protect from what can be lasting and lingering effects of suffering a concussion without seeking proper treatment, or even simply recognizing that someone has suffered this type of head injury in the first place. So with all the information out there about concussion and brain injuries, how do you know exactly what to believe and what not to believe? The best place to turn is to a knowledgeable, qualified and experienced sports neurologist. This is a specialized type of neurologic physician who can give factual answers that the public, athletes and parents of young athletes need. Let’s start right here with three of the most common concussion myths and the truths to bust them.

MYTH: Concussion is only possible from a direct blow to the head.

TRUTH: It's true that many concussions are caused by a single direct impact to the head, such as a soccer ball to the head (often referred to as a “header” or “heading the ball”) or a hard fall in which the head makes contact with the ground (hard football tackles, for example). But you may be surprised to learn that concussions can occur even if the head doesn’t make contact with the ground or another hard surface. Any activity that simply rattles the brain inside the skull is enough to cause a concussion. When the head or even the upper body is shaken with enough force, the brain can be put into motion, causing it to be slammed into the inside of the skull. This type of pressure on the brain has the same effects as an actual blow to the head and can be the result of many causes – from car accidents to being violently shaken. Don’t make the mistake of putting a potential head injury on the backburner just because there was no direct head contact. Get to know the signs and symptoms of a concussion, and be sure to check for those, whether there was a blow to the head or not.

MYTH: Consciousness must be lost for a concussion to be "serious."

TRUTH: The intensity of a concussion is in no way related to whether the person affected “blacks out” or “passes out” at the time of the injury. The truth is, some people who sustain a concussion will lose consciousness and some will not, but both can undergo the same exact injury inside the brain. In fact, most people who suffer a concussion don’tpass out. Due to the brain’s vast complexity, no two injuries are alike, and some side effects show up sooner than others. The biggest danger in the wide variation of concussion symptoms experienced from person to person is sustaining a concussion and not knowing it. If you were expecting a loss of consciousness and never experienced one, you may automatically assume no concussion took place and not seek medical treatment when it's needed. That can lead to life-threatening consequences. To avoid this mistake, treat every head injury with the same amount of urgency and concern, whether or not there is a loss of consciousness associated with it.

MYTH: “Rest is best” is a good concussion treatment.

TRUTH: Traditionally, cognitive and physical rest have been the treatment of choice for recovering and restoring the brain after a concussion. Though cognitive rest (taking time off school or work to let the brain rest) continues to be linked to a speedier recovery, absolute physical rest has been recently studied and associated with a potential delay in recovery post-concussion. Gradual, moderate exercise resumed within the first week post-concussion can actually help restore the brain’s functioning and reduce the risk of continued symptoms further down the road. On the contrary, too much rest may even lead to secondary symptoms like depression, anxiety and social isolation, which will only add to the length of the recovery period. Though you should always remain cautious after a concussion and listen to what your body (and doctor!) is telling you, don’t be afraid to get out there and (gently) get yourself moving a bit.

Of course, while concussion education is vitally important, no amount of printed or Internet resources should take the place of medical guidance from a neurological professional with expertise in the prevention, treatment and management of concussion. If you or someone you care about is involved in sports that include concussion as a possible injury risk, be sure you’ve also got a physician expert available to assess a concussion should it arise – before it does.