What Is A Concussion?

Currently, there are several ways to describe concussion. The terms concussion and mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) are often used interchangeably. On this website the term concussion will be primarily used.

A concussion is a brain injury that can affect how your brain works. Concussions may happen because of a hit to the head, face, neck or somewhere else on the body. When a hit takes place, the brain moves back and forth inside the skull. If it moves hard enough, the brain can become injured. This can make your brain and body work and feel different.

+ Holland Bloorview Concussion Handbook

From Concussion and You: A Handbook for Parents and Kids, Holland Bloorview Kid’s Rehabilitation Hospital 2015

A concussion is a disturbance in brain function caused by a direct or indirect force to the head. It results in a variety of non-specific signs and/or symptoms (some examples listed below) and most often does not involve loss of consciousness. Concussion should be suspected in the presence of any one or more of the following:

Symptoms (e.g., headache), or physical signs (e.g., unsteadiness), or impaired brain function (e.g. confusion), or abnormal behaviour (e.g., change in personality).

+ SCAT-3 Sports Concussion Assessment Tool

From SCAT-3 Sports Concussion Assessment Tool

Recognizing a Concussion

Following a concussion, you may feel many different symptoms. Some symptoms may appear right away and some may appear later. Some may appear when you start thinking or exercising. Some may be subtle and may go unnoticed by you but may be noticed by co-workers, teachers, friends or family. No two concussions are the same; however these are some common symptoms.

Common Concussion Symptoms

  • Physical
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Cognitive
  • Feeling mentally foggy
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Emotional
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Nervousness
  • More emotional than usual
  • Sleep
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Sleeping less than usual

If you suspect you have had a concussion, stop playing, studying, working or driving. You should not be alone for 24-48 hours. You should go to a doctor or emergency department if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A headache that gets worse
  • Drowsiness and can’t be woken up
  • Can’t recognize people or places
  • Unusual behavior or confusion
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Increasing Irritability
  • Seizure
  • Weak or numb arms or legs
  • Unsteadiness/balance problems
  • Neck pain
  • Slurred speech

Tools for Concussion Recognition

There are a number of tools that can be used by health professionals, coaches and athletic therapists to identify concussion in children, teens and adults. Although developed for sports, these tools can also be helpful in other situations (e.g., playground, car crash, falls) with some minor adaptations to memory questions (e.g., Where are you? What day is it?).

General tools for everyone to use:

There are a number of mobile phone apps for concussion recognition. Examples are:

Concussion Recognition & Response: Coach & Parent Version by PAR
Pocket Concussion Recognition Tool is a quick guide to help anyone recognize potential concussion in children, youth and adults

Tools for Coaches and Health Professionals:

The SCAT tools were developed for sport concussion assessment by coaches and health professionals.

Child SCAT-3 Sport Concussion Assessment Tool for Children 5-12
SCAT-3 Sports Concussion Assessment Tool for Athletes aged 13+
Digital Version of SCAT

Tools for Health Professionals:

ACE or Acute Concussion Evaluation (ACE) are a set of concussion assessment tools, which include:

The ACE Physician Clinician Office Version is a shorter assessment tool for health professionals
The ACE Post Concussion Home/School Instructions handout is for health professionals to give to families of children and teens after a concussion has been identified
The ACE Care Plan is for health professionals to give to adults after a concussion has been identified.