Frequently Asked Questions About Concussions
It’s important to know how a head injury can affect you physically and mentally. At Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology, we help you understand how concussions occur and how to prevent them.
Our team is always ready to provide the support you need. Learn more about our concussion care or see our answers to common concussion questions:
- What is a concussion?
- What is the difference between a concussion and a traumatic brain injury (TBI)?
- What happens to your brain during a concussion?
- When is a concussion an emergency?
- How can you prevent a concussion?
- What does state law say about youth sports and concussions?
Concussion diagnosis and symptoms
- How is a concussion diagnosed?
- So you didn’t hit your head. Could you still have a concussion?
- What does a concussion feel like?
- What are the symptoms of a concussion?
Concussion treatment and recovery
- How long does a concussion last?
- How is a concussion treated?
- How long until you can return to normal activities?
- Do you need to avoid your phone and computer?
What is a concussion?
A concussion occurs when the head moves rapidly back and forth, with the brain bumping against the skull. It’s usually caused by a direct blow to the head or a jolt to the body.
Concussions are most common in contact sports such as football, rugby and hockey. However, concussions can also result from falls or car accidents. Some people lose consciousness when they sustain a concussion, though most don’t.
What is the difference between a concussion and a traumatic brain injury (TBI)?
Most concussions are considered mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). They’re short-term disruptions to your brain function, with no long-term damage. And they’re not usually medical emergencies. A true TBI, on the other hand, is a medical emergency. It’s a head injury that can put your life in danger.
Learn more about how Henry Ford’s Cerebrovascular Center treats traumatic brain injuries.
What happens to your brain during a concussion?
When the brain pushes against the skull, delicate brain cells can get injured or bruised. The brain cells are part of the central nervous system and control many of your body’s functions. Damaged brain cells from a concussion can lead to a range of neurological issues, from headaches and dizziness to depression and insomnia.
When is a concussion an emergency?
If you experience any of the following symptoms, or notice these signs in someone else, call 911:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Enlarged or uneven pupils
- Loss of consciousness
- Numbness in any part of the body
- Persistent, worsening headache
- Repeated vomiting
- Seizures or convulsions
- Slurred speech
How can you prevent a concussion?
You can’t always prevent a concussion, but you can take steps to lower your chances of sustaining one. Annual visits with a sports neurologist can help identify your specific risk factors, based on your sports and your activity level. You can further reduce your risk for a concussion by wearing a properly fitting helmet or other head protection when appropriate. It’s also important to practice proper tackling techniques for certain sports and avoid direct head contact when possible. Learn more about keeping student athletes safe.
What does state law say about youth sports and concussions?
Michigan was the 39th U.S. state to enact a law regulating sports concussions and returns to athletic activity. The law went into full effect on June 30, 2013. The sports concussion legislation applies to all coaches, employees, volunteers and other adults involved with a youth athletic activity. They’re required to complete a concussion awareness online training program.
The organizing entity must also:
- Provide educational materials on the signs, symptoms and consequences of concussions to all athletes and their parents/guardians
- Obtain a signed statement acknowledging receipt of the information that organizers then keep on record
If athletes are suspected of sustaining a concussion, the law requires removing them from physical participation in the activity. The student athlete must receive written clearance from an appropriate health professional before returning to the physical activity or sport.
How is a concussion diagnosed?
While no blood test or scan can identify a concussion, the injury can potentially leave extensive physical, cognitive and emotional effects. Getting an accurate diagnosis depends on seeing a concussion expert who can carefully evaluate the warning signs.
Our specialists thoroughly assess how a head injury has affected you, from school, work and sports to friends, home life and sleep. During a concussion evaluation, we check:
- Eye function
- Range of motion, especially in the neck
- Reaction timing
So you didn’t hit your head. Could you still have a concussion?
Yes, you could. Concussions can occur even without a direct hit to the head. For example, a concussion can happen from severe whiplash during a car accident.
What does a concussion feel like?
Everyone experiences a concussion differently. Many people simply say, “I just don’t feel like myself.” Headaches, dizziness and nausea are some of the most common symptoms. However, even subtle changes in mood or disturbances in your sleep patterns can occur after a head injury.
What are the symptoms of a concussion?
There are more than 20 ways a concussion can affect your life. Symptoms typically fall into one of four categories: cognitive (thinking and remembering), physical, emotional and sleep. Learn more about concussion symptoms.
How long does a concussion last?
It depends. Some people start experiencing symptoms right after a head injury, then feel fine the next day. Other people deal with the effects of a concussion for days, weeks or months. We provide thorough follow-up care to track your recovery progress. When you’re ready, we create a safe return-to-play plan.
How is a concussion treated?
The best concussion treatment is to give your brain the break it needs. (Learn more about our concussion care and the concept of “relative” rest.) Other treatments may include:
- Diet modifications
- Manipulation of muscles and joints
- Physical therapy
- Trigger point injections
How long until you can return to normal activities?
All too often with concussions, people return to daily activities before they’re ready. Doing so can set the stage for prolonged symptoms or, worse, another head injury. A concussion specialist can help determine when you’re ready to return to school, work or the playing field.
Do you need to avoid your phone and computer after a concussion?
Not necessarily. It’s a common misconception that anyone with a concussion should avoid bright light, as well as computer screens, phones and other devices. In reality, if electronics aren’t making your symptoms worse, you don’t need to avoid them. Depriving the body of all stimulation could even lead to additional issues such as stress or depression.