Chattanooga doctor shares warning signs of a sport-related concussion

Q: My son has started playing football this fall and I'm worried about a concussion. What are the most common causes of concussions?

A: The most common cause of a sport-related concussion is a direct blow to the head. American football is the most at-risk sport for athletes to sustain a concussion. Sport-related concussions may also occur from an indirect, impulsive force transmitted to the head and may not involve a direct blow to the head at all.

Sport-related concussions are no longer described or graded as mild because the diagnosis should not be minimized — it can be very serious. Sport-related concussions can be treated at home with mental and physical rest to allow symptoms to improve. As symptoms begin to improve, a gradual return to normal daily activity may begin, then progressing to pre-concussion activity as symptoms resolve.

Sport-related concussions typically are associated with a headache immediately after the injury, but symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting, confusion, imbalance, amnesia, dizziness, light/noise sensitivity or loss of consciousness. Symptoms may develop immediately or may gradually appear, but if any symptoms worsen, then a visit to the emergency room is recommended.

Chronic symptoms can occur and lead to post-concussive syndrome requiring further evaluation and treatment. There is also much we are still learning about the long-term effects of concussions on the developing brain. The most concerning complication is second impact syndrome, which can occur if a second concussion occurs before one is fully recovered — leading to rapid brain swelling and oftentimes death

Most symptoms from a sport-related concussion resolve within 7-10 days, and athletes are often able to return to their sport during that time frame, but everyone is different. That's why it's important to confirm an athlete is ready by proceeding through a graduated return-to-sports protocol.

With any sport-related concussion, it is wise to see your primary care physician or a sports medicine physician to evaluate your symptoms and develop a graduated plan for your recovery and return to your sport. If symptoms worsen or the athlete exhibits focal neurological defects, then you should go to the emergency room.

There is arguably no more important organ in the body than the brain, especially in developing children. And, although sports are extremely important to the mental and physical growth of our kids, nothing is more important than their long-term health. If there is suspicion of a sport-related concussion, protect the child. When in doubt, sit them out.

  photo  Dr. Jason Robertson

Dr. Jason Robertson is a sports medicine specialist with Center for Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.