Diagnosing a Concussion

Concussions are hard to recognize because there is no visible injury to the structure of the brain. Recognition comes from various post-concussion symptoms that may affect an individual’s cognitive and physical abilities, emotions and moods, and sleeping patterns.

The following is a list of possible symptoms a person with a concussion may experience:

  • Feeling dazed or stunned
  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Memory loss
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Light or noise sensitivity
  • Loss of consciousness (even briefly)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Change in amount of time spent sleeping
  • Irritable or more emotional than normal

Concussion Symptoms

If you believe you or your child has sustained a concussion, consult your family or sport physician as soon as possible for medical evaluation. Most sport-related concussion injuries do not require emergency care. However, it is important that the injured party remains under close observation for the first few hours (and even days) following the injury, and the individual should not be left alone or allowed to operate a motorized vehicle. Emergency evaluation is warranted in situations of deteriorating mental status.

The following symptoms may indicate that the athlete has sustained a more serious and/or life threatening injury:

  • Increasing confusion
  • Difficulty recognizing people or places
  • Worsening headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Excessive drowsiness, lethargy
  • Slurred speech
  • Convulsions/seizures

More information on concussion symptoms can be found here.

At the Doctor’s

It’s recommended that following a concussion that you schedule an appointment with your Physician to ensure there are not any underlying issues from your injury (such as brain bleed, fractures, etc.). Although standard imaging studies such as X-rays, CTs, and MRIs do not typically show any abnormalities following a concussion, the physician may order these tests to rule out other trauma to the skull or neck.

Following their assessments, it’s recommended to book an appointment with a facility that primarily deals with concussion cases, such as Shift Concussion Management. During your concussion assessment you will be asked to describe the symptoms you’ve experienced, and you may undergo several tests to determine if a concussion is suspected.

These tests may include a variety of the following:

  • Visual exam
  • Balance assessment (with your eyes open, and then closed)
  • Coordination testing
  • Gait evaluation (observing you walk, watching you walk heel-to-toe)
  • Checking your neck for pain, tenderness or limited motion

Please note: The previous list is not exhaustive nor does having one or more of these symptoms mean that someone has a concussion. It is merely a guide to possible concussive symptoms. It is important to seek medical attention immediately to receive a diagnosis.

Unfortunately, there is no “gold standard” for the diagnosis of concussion. No single test exists to determine definitively that a concussion has occurred. Your Practitioner has to integrate the results from the various tests to establish the overall picture. If there is a typical mechanism of injury consistent with concussion and the athlete reports any one or more of the known symptoms, a concussion diagnosis is given. However, not all medical doctors and health professionals are up to date on diagnosis and the current management strategies. We would always recommend seeking out care from Practitioners who predominantly see concussion cases in their practice. If you think your doctor’s visit was not informative or thorough, seek a second opinion.

In the event that you or your child requires more specialized assessment, you may be referred to a medical specialist such as a sport physician, neurologist, pediatrician or neuropsychologist who has expertise in concussion and brain injury management. This measure is not always required initially and may be reserved for situations of prolonged recovery or severe impairment.