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Concussion Awareness-Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

Over the last ten years, concussions have become a hot topic in youth and professional sports and for just cause. The media is constantly showing violent hits in the NFL, NHL and other sports and the results of the hits are being shown more and more. Recent involvement by the NFL Players Association as well as many others, have sparked medical research and education into concussions and the long term effects they may cause. This movement has sparked many changes in the way concussions are handled and will greatly benefit an athlete’s health not only today, but in the future.


So, what is a concussion? “A concussion is a traumatic injury to the brain that alters mental status or causes other symptoms.” ( Concussions can be caused by a direct blow to the head or an indirect blow to the body that can violently shake the head. When a concussion occurs, the brain typically is accelerated quickly and can make contact with the inside of the skull causing a bruise or can be twisted or stretched causing a dysfunction of normal brain activity. Many concussions are often overlooked because athletes think “they just got their bell rung” or “didn’t get knocked out” or “just have a headache”. Though athletes, coaches and parents have been educated better in recent years, there is still a lot to learn regarding signs, symptoms and how to manage a concussion.  In 2012 there were an estimated 300,000 concussions reported in high school sports as noted in  Marar M, McIlvain NM, Fields SK, Comstock RD article, Epidemiology of Concussions Among United States High School Athletes in 20 Sports published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Many research articles in recent years have noted that football, boys hockey and girls soccer have the highest incidence of sports related concussions and that schools with a certified Athletic Trainer seem to have more as well. Athletic Trainers are educated in picking out the subtle signs of concussions that may go unrecognized by the athlete, coach or parent and may be the reason for the increase in incidence.


So, how do you know if you have a concussion? First you need to look for signs and symptoms of a concussion. The following is a list of the most common symptoms. These are not the only symptoms, but the more common ones.

  • Appearing dazed or confused
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Balance difficulties
  • Visual problems, such as blurriness or double vision
  • Short or long term memory difficulties such as don’t remember the play that just occurred, the score of the game or what they had for breakfast
  • Drowsiness
  • Just not feeling right
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Difficulty concentrating

If any of these signs or other symptoms occur following a collision, a concussion should be assumed and the athlete should be held out of participation and referred to a qualified Physician who frequently deals with sports related concussions for proper diagnosis and management. It is always best to err on the side of caution as the athlete is at a higher risk of a second concussion that may occur before the first one has healed. This is additional injury is called second impact syndrome which can potentially be fatal.


Concussion education has come a long way over the past ten years and still has a long way to go. The recent addition of the California Education Code 49475 as seen on the California Athletic Trainers Association website states “This bill would require a school district that elects to offer athletic programs to immediately remove from a school-sponsored athletic activity for the remainder of the day an athlete who is suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury during that activity. The bill would prohibit the return of the athlete to that activity until he or she is evaluated by, and receives written clearance from, a licensed health care provider, as specified. The bill would require, on a yearly basis, a concussion and head injury information sheet to be signed and returned by the athlete and the athlete’s parent or guardian before the athlete’s initiating practice or competition.” Athletes, parents, coaches and medical professionals are much more informed today at recognizing concussions and are making better and safer decisions on management than in the past.


In part two of the Concussion Awareness series, the article will touch on safe return to play protocols, baseline concussion testing and neck strengthening to help reduce concussions. Remember when in doubt, hold them out and seek professional medical attention.


Chris Phillips is a certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has spent over 20 years in professional sports including the National Hockey League and Men’s and Women’s Professional Soccer. Chris currently owns two Sports Performance and Rehab facilities in Orange County, CA and can be reached at or through their website,