It seems obvious to say that whatever level of sport you compete at, you shouldn’t take any unnecessary risks with your brain. However, concussion is not always an easy injury to spot, and even when it is clear that it’s occurred, people at the amateur level in particular aren’t always sure how long they should take to recover.
To clarify concussion and what you should do about it, we spoke to Dr Richard Sylvester, consultant neurologist at the Institute of Sport Exercise & Health.
What is concussion?
The simple answer is concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. The complicated answer is we don’t really know, because the problem is when you get an injury around the head and neck you can get symptoms from lots of different things. So, for instance, a neck injury can cause headaches that have nothing directly to do with the brain. But for the purposes of simplicity, it’s a brain injury that causes fairly rapid symptoms and usually gets better spontaneously.
How do concussions occur? Is it always an impact injury?
It doesn’t actually have to be an impact injury. Your brain is made up of billions and billions of cells, and there are a lot of things keeping them in place, feeding them, keeping them healthy. What we think disrupts that and causes an acute brain injury is not necessarily an impact to the head, when your skull protects you. It’s the deceleration – so your brain moves very rapidly – or even the rotation that you get with these injuries.
So your brain is sitting there inside some fluid and it’s protected by the very thick bone of the skull, which protects from direct impact. But when you have an impact either to the head or upper body, or deceleration, you get rapid movement in the brain, and that’s probably the hallmark of the injury that causes concussion.