Playing sports poses many risks, with concussions being among the most common—and the most serious. Concussions are not just mild bumps on the head that make you feel a bit out of sorts for a while. They are traumatic brain injuries, and while you might be able to walk and talk after a concussion, there could be hidden damage that can resurface later in life, causing more problems. Having a doctor evaluate you for a concussion is essential if you've sustained a head injury or had some sort of shaking trauma to your head.
Why Evaluating for a Concussion is So Important
A concussion is typically a brain injury that occurs after there has been some trauma to the body, particularly the head. It doesn't always occur after a head injury, though, and it can happen even if you didn't actually hit your head; for example, severe shaking can cause your brain to move back and forth rapidly, crashing it into the inside of your skull. In fact, in 2008, Australian researchers reported that rapid headbanging—the fast up-and-down movement of the head along with a music beat—to fast-tempo heavy metal music could cause mild concussions.
In many cases, a mild concussion doesn't leave apparent lasting damage. However, it's hard to tell what really happens to the brain, and one concussion can make you more likely to sustain more if you hit your head again. Mild concussions often affect your movements, speech and thinking processes for a few days afterward, and more severe concussions can have effects that need to be treated as soon as possible for the best chance of recovery. Thinking that just because you look normal, you must not have a concussion is a dangerous assumption.
History and Risk Factors Along With Injury
If you've hit your head or are experiencing confusion and processing problems after something like a car accident, which could result in a lot of head and brain shaking, a doctor will look at your history to see if you have additional risk factors for a concussion. These include prior concussions, past strabismus issues, and possibly past vision therapy. The doctor will also want to know about any prior head injuries for which you were not evaluated or that did not result in a concussion.
Symptoms and Tests
Initially, the doctor will check immediate physical signs, including vision and balance. If it becomes apparent that you need immediate neurological imaging, you'll have those tests done. You'll also receive cognitive testing, which often involves long- and short-term memory evaluation.
Treatments and Guidance
You will need to rest for several days, even for a mild concussion, and if the doctor thinks you need any form of therapy, you'll have to undergo that before getting a clean bill of health. If the concussion was due to a sports injury, you'll have to stay out of the sport until the doctor agrees that you can return.