5 concussion myths debunked
Awareness about the importance of concussions is at an all-time high. In response, athletic organizations, from Pop Warner football (a nonprofit program for kids 5 to 16) to professional sports, have safe-play protocols in place. But misconceptions about the injury — prevention, management and return to play — are still all too common.
It's great that parents, coaches and athletes are focused on concussions, but all involved also need to be aware of the complexities involved in evaluating, diagnosing and managing concussion.
Separating concussion fact from fiction
Here’s the truth behind five common concussion myths:
Myth #1: Concussions are only caused by blows to the head.
Concussions happen in response to the brain experiencing force. While they often result from a direct blow to the head, concussions can also occur after a hit to the neck, shoulders or anywhere else on the body. In these cases, brain injury is caused by the head moving rapidly back and forth (think whiplash from a car crash).
Myth #2: Concussions always involve a loss of consciousness.
A very small percentage of all concussions, 10% or less, result in a loss of consciousness. For the remaining injuries, parents, coaches and medical providers should watch for common symptoms such as:
- Balance problems
- Slurred speech
- Physical complaints including headache, nausea and vomiting
Myth #3: You should keep a person awake overnight after a concussion has occurred.
It's important to observe and interact with a recently concussed person for the first few hours to recognize the potential signs of a more serious injury. However, if they are interacting normally after four hours, it’s okay to let them sleep. If you have any doubts or questions, always err on the side of caution and seek medical attention.
Myth #4: After a concussion, kids should avoid digital media until they feel better.
Unless digital activities or screen time significantly worsen symptoms, there's no reason to avoid them. You shouldn't force people who have suffered a concussion to rest too much — or deprive them of sensory input — if they are comfortable engaging in activity. What’s more, taking away activities that bring a person joy or keep them socially connected could end up prolonging their recovery by creating additional symptoms.
Myth #5: All physical activity should be avoided after a concussion.
It’s important to rest for the first two to three days after a concussion. However, you need to be careful not to rest too much or avoid all activity for too long.
Engaging in physical, mental and social activities can be beneficial. But knowing how much to do and when to take it easy can be difficult. If you have any questions, consult your sports neurologist for specific recommendations.
Ground rules for concussion prevention and management
When it comes to preventing concussion, my recommendation is to start with these four common-sense rules:
- Whenever possible, limit the amount of contact in practices and games.
- Wear proper fitting and certified helmets or other head protection whenever appropriate.
- Spread contact drills out over time as much as possible.
- Practice good technique and play by the rules.
Athletes — especially those who play contact sports — should undergo an annual neurological evaluation that includes a comprehensive, focused neurological history and examination. This information provides a critical point of reference for medical professionals.
Knowing the truth about concussions — including what to watch for and what to do if one occurs — is really the best game plan.
Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher isa sports neurologist at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology in Detroit and the global director of the Kutcher Clinic.
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Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.