What is a Concussion?

In a battle, it is important to know who and what you are fighting against; therefore let’s dissect how concussions affect the brain and the resulting symptoms that follow. First lets look at the brain itself. The brain is composed of millions of neurons, glial cells, and blood vessels. The cell most important for this post, is neurons. Neurons are what allows us to do regular everyday activities  like walking, talking, sneezing and everything else that we do in any given day. Neurons are what allow for messages to be sent from our brain to different parts of our bodies. Their shape is very similar to that of worms; long and lanky. At the head of a neuron is where the nucleus, or cell “computer” is located. Similarly to how we have a brain, cells have a nucleus,which is the cell’s control center. At the end of the neuron is the ‘axon’, which is where neurotransmitters are released. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages from cell to cell. They are the messages that are sent from the axon to other cells.

Now that we understand the basic structure of the brain and the cells that compose it, we can better understand what really happens during and after a concussion. To start, the word concussion comes from the Latin word concutere, which means “to shake violently”, hence a concussion is caused by a sudden jolt, shake, or hit to the head. Once someone has been hit or struck, our jelly-like brains bump up  against the interior of the skull, resulting in contusions or bruises on the brain. Our neurons are then disrupted. The axons tear from the neuron body and neurotransmitters are released, causing a chemical imbalance.  Oluseun A. Olufade MD, sports medicine physician with Emory Sports Medicine and my former doctor, describes this situation best. He says the disturbance aroused from a concussion injury results in the need for more energy to reestablish balance in the brain. The need for this increased energy occurs simultaneously with the decreased blood flow due to the concussion. There is then an imbalance between decreased blood needed and increased energy required for the brain to heal. The body must then work overtime in order to restore balance, which is why you may feel fatigued and tired right after having receiving a concussion.

The aftermath of a hit can result in a multitude of symptoms, the most common being  headaches, sleep disturbance and fatigue, behavior and mood changes, cognitive complaints, visual changes, hearing and light disturbances, and coordination/balance complaints. The greater the number, severity, and duration of symptoms after a concussion increases the likelihood for a prolonged recovery. If the brain does not completely heal after the first impact and an athlete sustains a second injury, this can lead into worsening cognitive deficits. For this reason, physicians will often order their patients to avoid symptom triggers and rest as much as possible during the first few weeks of recovery.

It is also important to understand that each concussion is unique to another, though it may have taken two weeks for your friend’s concussion to heal it may or may not take longer for yours. 80% of concussion cases resolve within three weeks, while the rest can take months to years to resolve. Everyone must understand that every brain is different, thus every concussion is different, and therefore everyone recovers differently as well, but with the right practices in place you can heal at a faster rate!