Concussions are often referred to as a “hidden epidemic” because they typically do not produce observable injury effects. They cause problems in brain functioning, not structure. Brain trauma induced by a concussion rarely results in bleeding or bruising that can be identified by MRIs or CAT scans.

These methods are excellent ways to depict brain structure but are inadequate in their ability to assess brain functioning. Unfortunately, an athlete who has a normal MRI after a concussive event may return to sports participation before making a full recovery. Although the athlete may “look” ready to parents, coaches and teachers, the student might not feel cognitively, physically or emotionally ready.

So what are observable signs of concussions? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes four categories of concussion symptoms ( thinking/remembering (difficulty thinking clearly, feeling slowed down, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering new information), physical (headache, fuzzy or blurred vision, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise, balance problems, feeling fatigued), emotional/mood (irritability, sadness, anxiety) and sleep (sleeping more than usual, sleeping less than usual, or trouble falling asleep).

Activities that require concentration (studying, computer work, video games) may cause concussion symptoms to reappear or intensify. Also, a postconsussion syndrome (PCS) can develop days or weeks after a concussive event. A PCS is a collection of cognitive, physical and emotional symptoms that last for a varying amount of time following a concussion. It is crucial that parents, coaches and teachers have a clear understanding of the signs and symptoms of concussion for a full recovery to occur and to prevent further brain injury.