Keep Your Head in the Game (of Life): Identifying and Avoiding Concussions

Dr. Leddy in the UB Concussion Management Clinic

John Leddy, MD

Dr. Winnie Su

Published March 28, 2018

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, but it’s important to think about the health of your brain every day of the year. Injuries to the brain can be devastating, affecting not only the quality of your own life, but those around you in your relationships and work environments. Let’s take a deeper look at traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and how to be proactive at preventing them.

Understanding a Concussion

“After the first two or three days, when the symptoms are calming down, you can start carefully to get more active again, staying below the level where cognitive or physical activity increases your symptoms."”
Professor of Orthopaedics, Medical Director, UB Concussion Management Clinic

The most common TBI is a concussion. If you fall and hit your head or are otherwise hit in the skull, it can allow the brain to move, causing damage to tissues and resulting in chemical changes within the brain. Fortunately, concussions are generally temporary and not life-threatening, but there are complications that can cause symptoms to persist – something known as post-concussion syndrome – or the potential for a bleed in tissues surrounding the brain that can become life threatening.

“A concussion is a temporary interruption of brain function caused by traumatic force imparted to the head,” said Dr. John Leddy, medical director of the UB Concussion Management Clinic, and primary care sports medicine physician with UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. “(This) creates a disturbance in the ability to think, balance, coordinate one’s eyes, etc.”

A concussion is often associated immediately with a loss of memory before or during the incident, and potentially blacking out – but that does not have to be the case. People can still sustain a concussion without losing consciousness. In the hours after a concussion, other symptoms can begin to appear.

Symptoms of a Concussion

A concussion affects the normal functions that are managed by the brain, which means that disruptions in the signals being processed or sent can manifest throughout the body’s systems. This can lead to feelings of nausea or even vomiting, headaches, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to light or sound, irregular heartbeat, dizziness and sensitivity to medications.

According to UBMD concussion experts, symptoms of a concussion typically appear in the hours after an injury. A concussion can also cause changes in sleep patterns – making it difficult to fall asleep or oversleeping. Changes in a person’s state of mind can also occur, with increased irritability or trouble focusing or concentrating while reading.

Fortunately, the duration of these symptoms is temporary and in most people they wane within a few days of the injury. If concussion symptoms worsen – especially in the hours immediately following the injury – or last longer than a week, it could indicate a complication and require additional specialized medical attention.

Leddy recommends rest immediately following a concussion and slowly resuming activity.

“After the first two or three days, when the symptoms are calming down, you can start carefully to get more active again, staying below the level where cognitive or physical activity increases your symptoms,” said Leddy.

Complications from Concussions

Two primary complications that can arise from a concussion are post-concussion syndrome – a condition where symptoms persist for an extended period – and bleeding inside the skull, which can be life-threatening.

Internal Bleeding

A bleed in the brain can cause symptoms to worsen. Common indications of an internal bleed include a headache that grows more painful or vomiting that continues hours after returning home from an emergency room or urgent care. An internal bleed can also lead to increases in dizziness, drowsiness, confusion or disorientation. If any of these symptoms occur, seek emergency medical care immediately.

Post-Concussion Syndrome

Post-concussion syndrome is when concussion symptoms persist for an extended period – typically longer than three-four weeks. Symptoms should naturally subside after a few days to a couple of weeks, but if symptoms continue, doctors at the Concussion Management Clinic can help. This can involve a variety of approaches, including specialized exercise regimens, medication and close monitoring to identify any underlying medical issues or concerns that could be affecting recovery.

Prevention Is the Best Medicine

Of course, the best treatment for a concussion is to not get one in the first place. Accidents happen every day, meaning that not all concussions are preventable, but many occur while playing sports or engaging in other athletic or play activities.

The UB Concussion Management Clinic offers a full list of tips for safely playing and exercising:

  • Wear protective headgear, like a helmet, during contact sports or athletics like bicycling or climbing
  • Use the right footwear for each activity to reduce the risk of slips and falls
  • Use a mouth guard to protect your teeth and jaw
  • Ensure protective equipment fits snugly and is appropriately sized
  • Avoid head to head collisions during contact games or sports
  • Follow the rules of a game to promote safety

“The important message to get across is to know the signs and symptoms of a concussion,” says Leddy. “Come out of the game and don’t go back in until you’re cleared by a doctor or certified athletic trainer.

“Different sports have different risks. Contact and collision sports, like football and soccer, have the most risk. But you can get a concussion in any sport,” Leddy adds. “If you can fall down and hit your head, you can get a concussion.”

At the end of the day, it comes down to this: “(We) can’t eliminate the risk of concussion from contact-oriented sports, but (we) can lessen the risk and try to manage concussions better so that the risk of returning to sport is minimized as much as possible,” said Leddy.

If you are struck or impacted on the head, report any signs or symptoms to a doctor, parent, coach or trainer immediately. In addition, if you have concussion symptoms or have been diagnosed with a concussion, do not resume playing or other activities until medically cleared by a doctor. Additional head trauma while already concussed can lead to serious lasting health issues, so it’s important to not return to activities until you’ve received approval from a trained professional.

Make UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine Your First Call

If you have been concussed or believe you may have sustained a concussion, the medical team at UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine’s Concussion Management Clinic can help. The treatment options at UBMD are among the most comprehensive and unique in Western New York, and the doctors at the clinic have helped perform cutting-edge research that is redefining and setting new care standards for concussions worldwide. Get the latest information and the newest approach to treatment when you work with the UBMD team.

To find out more, call UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine at 716.204.3200 to schedule an appointment  at the Amherst Health Center on Harlem Road, BrookBridge in Orchard Park, in Farber Hall at the UB South Campus or the Summit Healthplex in Niagara Falls.