Concussions are complex injuries that can give rise to an array of outcomes. Between 1.7 and 3 million sports and recreation-related concussions are estimated to happen each year, and half of all concussions go unreported or undetected. What’s more, young athletes are particularly at risk with more than two-thirds of traumatic brain injuries, like concussions, occurring in athletes between 5 and 18-years-old.

“A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that typically occurs with sports or other types of high trauma like falls, and car accidents,” says Michael D. McCleary, M.D., board-certified in Primary Care Sports Medicine and Pediatrics at Orlando Orthopaedic Center.

“A concussion can occur from a direct injury to the head, be it a fall or collision, but it can also happen from any sudden change in the position of the head such as with a car accident or whiplash. The net result is that there is a shaking motion of the head, which then strains and irritates the brain.”

A Deceptive Condition

McCleary ConcussionAccording to Dr. McCleary, a concussion can be elusive because it doesn’t cause any physical damage to the brain, and therefore, imaging studies such as a CT scan or an MRI will look normal.

“It’s not the structure of the brain that gets damaged but the function of the brain,” he says. “And this results in a wide range of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, low energy levels, and sensitivity to light and sound. No concussion is the same, so there are always a different set of symptoms.”

How to Treat a Concussion

Proper evaluation and treatment are very important for athletes with a suspected concussion. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, it is critical to be followed by a doctor who is experienced in dealing with concussion issues.

“It’s imperative that you do not return to play too soon,” says Dr. McCleary. “And it’s just as important that the medical professional you see understand concussions, the latest recommendations for treatment and return to play, and can follow those guidelines for the best possible outcome.”

At Orlando Orthopaedic Center, clearing an athlete back to play involves three steps. The first phase requires rest until the symptoms have resolved. When the athlete is completely symptom-free, the next step entails doing a computer-based exam which tests the athlete’s short-term memory recall and ability to process information.

The third step involves a gradual progression back to activity without a recurrence of symptoms. Under the guidance of an athletic trainer and concussion specialist like Dr. McCleary, the athlete will undergo athletic challenges ranging from jogging and running to weightlifting and more exertive activities.

Dr. McCleary says, “Having that level of specialized care makes a difference for athletes because in the past, concussions were poorly understood and athletes returned to play before they were truly healed, leading to increased risk of long-term difficulties and post-concussion symptoms.”