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Clearing Common Concussion Misconceptions

Concussions affect different people in different ways. Commonly misunderstood, this mild form of traumatic brain injury confuses many, despite a shared desire to protect loved ones from concussion and care for them well when it does occur.

According to sports medicine specialist David Smith, MD, "There has been an explosion of knowledge in the last 10-15 years, but with that explosion comes some confusion."

To resolve confusion and debunk misconceptions, we offer the following fast facts for families, educators, coaches and teammates. Together, we can reduce risks and improve outcomes for patients recovering from concussion.

Myth: A concussion is nothing more than a bump to the head.

While not usually life-threatening, a concussion is a form of brain injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a concussion as "a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth," and adds that "this sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells."

Myth: If there’s no loss of consciousness, it’s not a concussion.

False. Loss of consciousness is but a possible indicator. In fact, according to the CDC, most concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness. Some estimates suggest that less than 10% of concussions involve a loss of consciousness. Many signs and symptoms can indicate a concussion injury, including headache, vision problems, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, difficulty with balance, sensitivity to light and noise, anxiety and difficulty thinking, remembering or concentrating. Concussion can have physical, cognitive and emotional effects.

Myth: Once the initial impact has passed, so has the danger.

Some symptoms may be evident at the time of injury, but others may not appear until days later. Brain changes at the microscopic level can continue to evolve for weeks to months following the impact. It is particularly important to guard against further injury during this period, in which dangerous second-impact syndrome can occur.

Myth: An MRI or CT scan will prove whether a concussion occurred.

A concussion injures brain cells at a microscopic level. While the damage is very real, it cannot be seen in the currently available scans. There have been recent developments in imaging that may allow physicians to see these injuries better, but research on the best way to use these scans is still ongoing.

Myth: You should wake a sleeping concussed person every couple of hours.

Rest and sleep are the body’s best medicine after concussion. If a physician has ruled out other health concerns, a concussed person need not be woken from sleep. Additionally, the brain should rest even during waking hours. Tasks requiring focus and concentration – watching television, playing video games, texting – should be avoided.

Myth: Children will bounce back from concussion quickly.

Actually, kids and teens heal more slowly than adults. Their developing brains require a longer recovery time. Often, concussions heal fully in 2-3 weeks, but some patients may require several months to achieve a complete recovery.

Myth: Proper helmets and headgear will prevent concussion.

While use of proper head protection is important to maximize safety, it cannot conclusively prevent concussion.

Myth: Athletes should be strong and return to sports promptly.

While our society sometimes values a "power through" mindset, in fact, athletes who return to play too soon after concussion have a greater risk of sustaining another one. Their brains are still healing. A complete recovery before a return to the field or court is critically important. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that "50% of 'second-impact syndrome' incidents – brain injury caused from a premature return to activity after suffering initial concussion – result in death." There is also growing evidence that a delay in reporting of concussion symptoms may prolong the recovery of an athlete with concussion. All concussions are unique. Athletes should see a specifically trained physician for a personalized care plan that promotes recovery and a safe return to physical activity.

If you’re concerned about someone you care about, call 913-588-1227 to make an appointment with a specialist, or request your appointment online.

Our collaborative team works to achieve outstanding outcomes and faster recovery rates for our patients. Jill Kouts, RN, clinical nurse navigator for concussion care, reminds patients that she is available to "provide education and assurance in the moment, giving patients personalized attention as they work through injuries."

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Concussion symptoms and treatment are often misunderstood. How much do you know about concussions? Take our quiz and see.

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