A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions are usually caused by a blow to the head which can result from sports, vehicle accidents and other activities where there is an impact to the brain. Explore this section to learn more about the causes of a concussion, how to recognize symptoms, recovery tips, to learn about prevention and much more.
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Dr. Mike Evans is founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital.
What Causes A Concussion?
A direct blow or jolt to the head, face and neck. It could result from a fall, a tackle in a contact sport, assault, vehicle accident, walking or running into an obstacle, skateboarding, snowboarding, explosion…and the list goes on.
Most concussions can be prevented. Learn more by reading our Concussion Prevention Tips.
What To Do After A Concussion
- Stop what you are doing, let someone know what happened and get help. It is very important to seek medical advice as soon as possible if you think you have had a concussion.
- Tell whoever is around you at the time that you think you have a concussion. They could be a family member, friend, co-worker, teammate, or coach.
- Immediately stop doing the activity whether it is work, school, sports or driving
- In the minutes to days after a concussion, brain cells are in a vulnerable state.
- Usually, the symptoms/problems of concussion are temporary and over time will go away.
- Healing usually happens over several days, but in some cases may take many weeks or months.
- Some symptoms may appear right away and some may appear later.
- Symptoms may get worse with an increase in activity.
- Having had a previous concussion may increase the time needed to heal.
Common Concussion Symptoms and Problems
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Feeling slowed down
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering new information
- Trouble expressing thoughts and finding the right words
- Nausea or vomiting (early on)
- Fuzzy or blurred vision
- Dizziness or light headedness
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Poor balance
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Feeling tired, having no energy
- Sad, depressed, tearful
- More emotional
Coping With Symptoms and Getting Better
- In the early stages of recovery get plenty of sleep at night, and rest during the day
- To rest your brain you need to reduce the demands you make of it. If you are reading, watching TV, checking e-mails or worrying you are not resting your brain.
- Use Sleep Hygiene techniques if you are having trouble sleeping
- If sleep problems continue talk to your doctor
- Physical and mental demands can make your symptoms worse and slow your recovery
- Avoid activities that are physically demanding e.g., heavy housecleaning, working-out, mowing the lawn, lifting and carrying heavy items
- Avoid activities that require a lot of concentration e.g., reading, video games, studying, computer work
- Avoid activities that could lead to a second concussion e.g. contact or recreational sports
- It is best to avoid jarring movements such as running, jumping on trampolines, riding roller coasters or other high-speed rides that can make your symptoms worse
- When your doctor says you are well enough, return to your normal activities gradually, not all at once. Use Energy Conservation techniques
- Tips for Managing Thinking Problems has some ideas that can help to lessen the impact of thinking changes
- Consult with family members or close friends when making important decisions
- Avoid using the computer for long periods of time early in the recovery process. This includes avoiding computer and video games.
- Make time for careful grooming and hygiene daily
- Take care of your appearance and clothing
- Eat three nutritious meals / day, do not skip breakfast
- Avoid / limit caffeine, salt, sugar and junk food
- Keep hydrated, drink water
- Alcohol and other drugs will slow your recovery and put you at risk of further injury
- Take only those drugs that your doctor has approved
- Do not drink alcohol until your doctor says you are well enough
- Refer to the handout on post-concussion headaches (to come)
- If you have headaches or body pain you will not be able to sleep and are more likely to be irritable
- Review medication and other treatment options with your doctor
- Be very careful to avoid falls or hits to the head
- Take special care in your actions and movements. Move slowly and constantly be aware of your surroundings
- Do not climb stepladders or work from heights
- Stress, irritability, sadness and anxiety are common and normal reactions to having to cope with your symptoms and the changes in your lifestyle
- Find ways to relax such as music, meditation, writing, prayer, and slow deep breathing
- Keep a positive and optimistic outlook. Feel confident in the healing process, know that you are improving, focus on your strengths, have realistic expectations, look for opportunities in your current situation, and set short term goals
- Maintain social connections with friends, but keep it low key initially
- Check out the online workbooks on coping with stress, depression and health conditions at C.O.M.H.
- If you experience persistent mood changes talk to your doctor
- Avoid any strenuous exercise or activity in the first few days or weeks following your concussion
- Once your symptoms settle down start with light aerobic exercise such as walking
- Gradually increase frequency (how often), then duration (length of time), and finally intensity (how heavy, how fast, how hard) of exercise
- If your symptoms get worse then reduce the intensity and duration
- Get your doctors consent before returning to intensive exercise or competitive sports
- Follow the Return to Play (or activity) Guidelines from Parachute
- Because your ability to react may be slower after a concussion, ask your doctor when you can safely drive a car, ride a bike, or operate heavy equipment
- Plan for success. Start by slowly building your cognitive and physical endurance
- Just like resuming exercise, it is important that you return to work or school in a graduated way and start with activities that are within your abilities. Slowly increase the duration and frequency that you work / study
- You may initially need modified (fewer demands) work duties or a reduced course load. Working a shorter day, working fewer days and taking frequent rest breaks during the day may be necessary. Getting permission for additional time to write an exam may be possible
- Talk with your doctor about the requirements of your work / studies, the modifications you need and when you can return to work / school
- Keep your employer aware of what is going on
- Meet with the advisor for students with disabilities in the counselling department at your college / university to plan for your needs
- Make sure you have a good quality, properly fitted hard hat (if required) and follow the safety procedures mandated on work sites
- As you are healing, take care to avoid having another concussion. At all times be smart about the risks you take and adopt an attitude of prevention
Online Concussion Guides
Vancouver Coastal Health Concussion Guide
MyGuide: Concussion is a customizable guide for adults with concussion, or those wanting to learn about adult concussion. It should not be used to self-diagnose, replace medical advice, or for concussion in people under 18 years old.
MyGuide: Concussion has three goals:
- To inform you about concussion & recovery
- To equip you with tools
- To empower you with confidence to take action
Or go to Catalogue to see all the articles.
Concussion Awareness Training Tool
The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) includes three toolkits providing training in the recognition, treatment and management of concussion for:
- Medical Professionals
- Parents, Players, and Coaches
- School Professionals
CATT is free, accessible and regularly updated with evidence-based information and resources. Each toolkit includes a self-paced learning module as well as tailored resources relevant to the specific audience.
Brain Injury Guides for Youth
Youth Brain Injury
This is a reference guide about youth brain injury developed by Sun Life Financial Chair.
Brain Injury in Adolescence
This is a reference guide about brain injury in adolescence developed by Sun Life Financial Chair.
Teaching Kids With Concussion
GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre has put together a guide for teachers working with youth who have suffered a concussion.
HEADWays Concussion Recovery app is a self-management tool for individuals who have suffered a concussion.
PACE Concussion App
PACE Concussion – Progressive Activation and Concussion Education is an iPhone based app to facilitate recovery from concussion.