11 Concussion Myths By: Domenico Oppedisano

Myth #1: A concussion can only be caused by direct impact to your head. 

Fact: Although a direct impact to your head can result in a concussion, it is not the only way a concussion can occur. Concussions can also occur from a blow to your body or from any activity that causes the head to rapidly move or rotate.

Myth #2: After a concussion, you need to get a CT scan or MRI immediately.

Fact: CT scans or MRIs are not typically required after sustaining a possible concussion. Such imaging is used to rule out more serious and rare injuries such as a skull fracture and or bleeding in the brain. The damage to the brain from a concussion is often microscopic and, as a result, cannot be detected with a CT scan or MRI. Currently, there is no gold standard for the detection of a concussive injury. Diagnosis is typically based on the presence of a variety of symptoms (see fact #3). Following a possible concussion, you should seek medical assistance as early as possible from your family doctor, sport physician, or paediatrician. After visiting a physician, a physiotherapist trained in concussion management can assist you with concussion rehabilitation.

Myth #3: All concussions present with the same symptoms

Fact: Concussions are caused by various mechanisms and they affect individuals differently. As a result, there are a wide array of signs and symptoms that a person with a concussion may demonstrate. These include one, or a combination, of the following:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headaches/pressure in head
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness, fatigue, and/or fogginess
  • Nervousness, anxiety, and/or irritability
  • Sadness or depression
  • Neck pain
  • Balance issues
  • Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep, early awakening, irregular sleep-wake pattern, and/or daytime fatigue and sleepiness)
  • Difficulties remembering
  • Problems concentrating
  • Light and/or sound sensitivity

*Remember: Signs and symptoms may become present hours after the incident. Duration of these signs and symptoms will differ from one person to another as well.

Myth #4: You have to be knocked unconscious to have a concussion.

Fact: A concussion can occur with or without a person losing consciousness. In fact, studies suggest that loss of consciousness occurs in less than 10% of all reported concussion cases.

Myth #5: The harder the impact, the worse the concussion and the longer it will take to fully recover. 

Fact: The level of impact to your head or body does not always correlate to concussion severity and it cannot predict the time frame for a full recovery. For instance, a person who suffered a concussion following a traumatic fall from a 12 foot ladder may recover faster than someone whose concussion stems from being hit in the head with a basketball. Again, it is important to remember that every concussion is different, and the recovery time will be different from one person to another.

 Myth #6: You cannot suffer a concussion if you are wearing a properly fitted helmet.

Fact: A properly fitted helmet can help reduce an injury, but it does not necessarily prevent the occurrence of a concussion, regardless of the brand or design. Wearing a helmet cannot prevent the brain from colliding against the skull, which results in a concussion. However, this should not deter you from ever wearing a helmet as they protect against other serious injuries such as a skull fracture and bleeding in the brain.

Myth #7: There are some situations where a concussed athlete can return to play immediately.

Fact: If you are an athlete and you demonstrate any signs or symptoms of a concussion, you should not immediately return to the current game or practice in which the injury occurred. Immediate exertion (physical and cognitive) before the brain has fully healed can increase the severity of concussion symptoms and prolong the recovery process. It is imperative that you be removed from the field of play and be closely monitored for signs and symptoms by a coach, parent, or, if present, a medical professional. You should be kept out of play until a doctor clears you to return.

Myth #8: You should not sleep following a concussion. If you have a concussion you should be woken up every 2-3 hours.

Fact: A common misconception is that sleeping following a concussion can increase the risk of a coma, which is not the case. Symptoms such as drowsiness and feeling lethargic are common with a concussion, and to address such issues it is imperative that you maintain a regular sleep schedule to allow your brain to recover.

Myth #9: A concussion has fully healed when there are no symptoms.

Fact: The brain continues to heal even after symptoms have resolved. Studies show that symptom recovery typically precedes full neurocognitive recovery. Therefore, it is imperative a thorough examination is regularly completed by a trained professional.

Myth #10: Boys get more concussions than girls.

Fact: When comparing children who participate in the same sports, girls have slightly higher concussion rates. Theories explaining this trend include anatomical and physiological gender differences, as well as girls being more likely to report symptoms to a coach, parent, or medical professional.

Myth #11: It’s OK to return to school immediately following a concussion.

Fact: Returning to regular school activities too quickly after a concussion may delay your recovery. Following a concussion, the brain is healing from an injury. Added stress in the form of busy hallways, classroom chatter, bright lights, gym class, math calculations, reading etc. may provoke symptoms, increase the risk of sustaining another concussion, delay recovery, and ultimately affect your school performance. It is important to be under the care of a trained health professional, such as a physiotherapist, who may recommend specific academic accommodations to assist in your recovery.