Patient Information: Concussions

What is a concussion?

  • A mild traumatic brain injury occurring when impact causes the brain to move suddenly within the skull
  • There may be no “obvious hit” to the head
  • Typically does not involve brain damage/bleeding
  • Temporarily impacts brain function What are the symptoms of a concussion?
  • Symptoms can vary between people, but may include some combination of: Headache, dizziness, poor balance, nausea/vomiting, memory loss, irritability, mood swings, or sleep changes
  • Concussions may include a loss of consciousness, but someone who is conscious after a head injury can still have a concussion o Symptoms may begin immediately after a head injury, or may not appear for several days

How are concussions diagnosed?

  • The severity of a concussion is determined by the severity of the symptoms
  • Have a family member or friend help you keep track of what your symptoms are and when they appearedwriting them in a journal may be helpful
  • Your physician will review this journal of symptoms, along with performing a neurological exam (for vision, hearing, reflexes, balance, and coordination) and a neuropsychological exam (for memory, attention, critical thinking, communication, and emotional lability)
  • If you have an ImPACT test (concussion screening) baseline score, you will take the test again to compare your scores
  • In severe head injury cases, or cases that do not improve over time, a head MRI or CT may be ordered

How are concussions treated?

  • Your physician will work with your athletic trainer, teachers, and employers to manage recovery
    • MA state law requires a physician certified in concussion management to clear youth athletes for return to play
  • Physical rest: Stopping all exercise activities
  • Mental rest: Limiting “screen time”, reading, work
  • A multi-disciplinary approach is used: Medications, neuropsychology, cognitive rehabilitation, vestibular therapy, neurology, otolaryngology, speech therapy
  • When you are symptom free, you may begin a slow progression back to regular activities
  • Recovery is critical before returning to impact situations: Long-term problems are much more likely if another concussion occurs before you heal
  • First time concussion: Typical recovery is 7-10 days
  • For subsequent concussions, or particularly severe concussions: Recovery may take weeks to months

How can I prevent a concussion or decrease the severity?

  • Prevention is very important, as one concussion puts you at greater risk to sustain additional concussions
    • Recurrent concussions can have negative longterm consequences for brain health
  • Incorporate neck strengthening into exercise routines- this is the only evidence-based method of reducing risk of subsequent concussion- see below
  • Use appropriate athletic equipment such as properly fitted helmets and mouthguards
  • “Play smart” during tackling and impact plays
  • To help prevent long-term damage, seek prompt medical help if having symptoms of a concussion

Where can I learn more about concussions?


To schedule an appointment, visit the Steward St. Elizabeth’s Sports Medicine website at:




736 Cambridge St, CCP9, Brighton, MA 02135

Phone 617-779-6500 Fax 617-779-6555


Adapted from: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (, Hospital for Special Surgery (, Mayo Clinic ( This information is for patient reference only. It is not intended to diagnose or guide treatment without evaluation by a physician.