Five Things You May Not Know About Concussions

Would you know if your child had a concussion? Doctor’s from the Fairview Health Services Acute Injury Clinic in Blaine say it’s not always obvious. Here are several ways you can identify a concussion and take the appropriate steps to getting your child the care he or she needs.

1. More than one cause

Concussions are most commonly caused by a hit or bump to the head, but may also be caused by a hit or blow to the neck or body that transmits a force to the brain, such as a body check in hockey.

2. Not just a headache

Concussion symptoms can vary from patient to patient and can sometimes be hard to recognize.  Symptoms fall into four categories:

  • Physical symptoms: headache, dizziness, sensitivity to light and other visual symptoms such as  nausea, balance problems
  • Emotional symptoms: mood changes, irritability
  • Sleep symptoms: drowsiness and difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Cognitive symptoms: feeling “foggy,” memory problems, difficulty concentrating

If an athlete has symptoms of a concussion, they should be removed immediately from the game and not return to activity until they have been evaluated and cleared by a medical provider.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that affects the way your brain works at a cellular level – meaning there’s no obvious injury that you can see. MRI and CT scans are often normal and typically are not needed. Doctors diagnosis concussions by evaluating your symptoms and performing a neurological exam. Sometimes, computerized cognitive testing, like ImPACT, is used to help in the management of concussion.

3. No grading scale

Doctors no longer use a grading scale to classify concussions as mild or severe. Every concussion and every patient is unique.  Symptoms can last days, weeks or longer. Right now, there is no consensus on whether a patient’s initial symptoms can help predict how long it will take them to recover. However, there’s a lot of research being conducted on this topic right now.

4. Give your brain a rest

The cornerstone of concussion treatment is both physical and cognitive rest so the brain can recover.  Athletes should not return to physical activity until they are symptom free and cleared by a medical provider.  Athletes should also rest from cognitive activities including school, homework, television and video games.

5. Return to play: 5 steps, 5 days – at a minimum

An athlete typically begins a return-to-play five-step protocol, under the guidance of their doctor when they’re:

  • symptom free at rest
  • participating fully in school and academics
  • have a normal neurologic exam
  • off medications that may mask concussion symptoms

Athletes typically progress through one step per day and should go back to a previous step if they start experiencing symptoms.

  • Light aerobic activity: walking or biking
  • Moderate aerobic activity: jogging or biking
  • Sports specific drills:  drills that include cutting and changing direction without contact
  • Full contact practice
  • Game participation without restrictions

Fairview concussion hotline

Fairview offers a sports concussion hotline to connect you quickly with providers to help diagnose and treat concussions. If you suspect a concussion, call 952-460-4440.

Walk-in clinic for sports injuries

Walk-in care is now available at Fairview Sports and Orthopedic Care in Blaine for injuries as broken bones, strains, sprains or tears. Doctors who specialize in sports medicine are ready to see you, six days a week—just stop in.

An Evening with Bennet Omalu

To learn more about the impact of concussions on brain health, join us for “An Evening with Bennet Omalu” this Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park. Dr. Omalu revolutionized neuroscience by identifying chronic brain damage as a major factor in the deaths of some professional athletes. In 2015, his story served as the inspiration for the movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith.


Sarah Kinsella, MD, is a sports medicine doctor who sees patients of all ages for acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions and has a special interest in sports-related concussions and caring for pediatric athletes.

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