When you experience a blow to the head, knowing whether you've suffered a concussion isn't always clear cut.
"It's critical for parents, coaches, players and trainers to recognize the potential signs and symptoms of a concussion," says Jeffrey Kutcher, M.D., a sports neurologist who treats athletes at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology. "The basic rule is that a concussion can affect any aspect of brain function."
Signs of Concussion
The Latin root of the word "concussion" means "to shake violently" — which makes sense. Concussions happen when there's a combination of movement and impact. So, any injury that involves a hit to the head — a fall, collision or hard hit by a heavy object — could cause one. So could a hit to the body that causes the head to move quickly.
"But every brain injury is different," Dr. Kutcher says. "Some symptoms show up right away while others develop gradually over days."
Here are common concussion symptoms to watch for — both immediately following a head injury and in the hours and days after:
Physical Concussion Symptoms
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty with balance
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Light sensitivity
- Numbness or tingling
- Sensitivity to sound
- Visual problems
Emotional Concussion Symptoms
- Mood swings
Cognitive Concussion Symptoms
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling "slow" or "foggy"
- Memory problems
Diagnosing Concussion: Getting It Right
One reason concussions are frequently misdiagnosed is because they're assessed on the field or courtside during game play or practice. Coaches, trainers and parents often make lightning fast decisions about whether symptoms, such as headache, nausea and light sensitivity, are signs of concussion.
"Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than completing a concussion checklist. Everyone — and every concussion — is different. So, observers shouldn’t be diagnosing a head injury on the spot, but rather making a triage decision for safety. They should leave the diagnosis to the medical professionals," Dr. Kutcher says. In fact, those in-the-moment assessments are wrong about half of the time.
People should focus instead on getting immediate, emergency care for anyone who displays the following signs and symptoms right after a hit:
- Difficulty walking
- Weakness on one or both sides
- Not waking up
- Repeated vomiting
- Persistent confusion
No matter how hard (or lightly) you think you've been hit, it's important to take head injury symptoms seriously. Even a seemingly minor blow could have a major impact. A complete evaluation by a medical professional will not only determine whether you have a concussion, it can also identify more serious, or even life-threatening, concerns.
"In every case, medical professionals are better equipped to assess the extent of the damage if you have a comprehensive baseline evaluation on file," Dr. Kutcher says. This thorough evaluation with a sports neurologist, including a complete family and neurological history, can act as a critical point of reference when trainers and medical professionals are trying to diagnose or manage a concussion.
Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher is a sports neurologist and the medical director of the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.
Want to learn more? Henry Ford Health System sports medicine experts are treating the whole athlete, in a whole new way. From nutrition to neurology, and from injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, they can give your athlete a unique game plan.
Visit henryford.com/sports or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours.
Playing sports is a great way for children of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It also builds confidence and teaches them valuable life lessons, like working as a team and the value of hard work. While it may be every sports fanatic’s dream to have their kid make it big time in the arena or on the diamond, sometimes pushing young athletes to be the best at a young age can lead to serious injuries that will take them out of the game altogether.
"Sports help with physical and psychological well-being," says Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "However, year-round participation in a single sport at a young age can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout."
Nowadays, many kids will start playing one sport at a young age and continue to play that same sport year-round for years. This can be harmful to your child because his or her soft tissue and bone structures aren't fully developed. Furthermore, the pressures of year-round participation and focus on excelling, rather than enjoyment, can negatively affect a young athlete's mental health.
Basketball causes the most injuries among high schoolers, causing many visits to the emergency room each year for stressed and torn ankle ligaments. In baseball, the Tommy John surgery, a procedure to reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow after overuse, has also been increasingly used to treat young athletes still in high school.
How To Prevent Sports Injuries
Preparing your children appropriately before a sports season begins and supporting them during the season is important. Dr. Santa Barbara offers four key pieces of advice to help your youth athletes avoid injury.
1. Don’t limit your child to one sport. Playing a variety of sports in different seasons is a great way to work different parts of the body. When your child gets older, they can make the transition to playing a single sport they are good at and enjoy.
2. Warm up. Make sure your child is properly warming up before they play any sport. Dynamic warmups--incorporating exercises that involve moving the body such as lunges, high knees and arm circles – are preferable to stretching alone.
3. Strengthen core muscles. Building up core strength takes pressure off joints in the arms and legs. It gives young athletes more momentum and can help improve their performance.
4. Abide by rest rules. Many schools and sports leagues have rules in place to limit how many teams kids are on or how often they play. Follow these to ensure your child is allowing time for their joints and muscles to recover from physical activity.
Children participating in a sport should never push through pain, and injuries should be promptly evaluated by a sports medicine physician. Physical injuries are often more obvious, while mental health issues due to sports participation can be more subtle. Symptoms such as fatigue and declining performance can be signs of burnout. In these situations, rest is also important.
"Sports should be fun for kids," says Dr. Santa Barbara. "Avoiding single-sports specialization at a young age keeps the focus on enjoyment while reducing the physical and psychological risks of year-round participation."
To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/sportsmedicine or call 313-651-1969.
Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., is a non-operative sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus, Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township and Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane.