Skip to main content

Sports Concussion

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is a sports concussion?

A concussion is a mild brain injury. It is usually caused by a bump or blow to the head. This can happen during almost any sport, but is most common with football, hockey, and boxing. Your head may come into contact with another player, the player's equipment, or a hard surface. Even a seemingly mild blow can cause a concussion. You may lose consciousness and need help getting off the field of play. It is important to follow the return to play protocol for your sport, even if you do not lose consciousness. This may mean you cannot go back into the game. You may also not be able to play in the next several games until you heal.

What signs and symptoms of a concussion may happen right away?

  • Trouble remembering what to do during the game, or not keeping up with other players
  • Ringing in the ears or feeling foggy
  • Dizziness, loss of balance, or blurry vision
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light

What other signs and symptoms may develop?

  • Headache
  • Trouble thinking, remembering things, or concentrating
  • Drowsiness or decreased energy
  • Changes in your sleep pattern
  • A change in mood, such as restlessness or irritability

How is a concussion diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. You may need any of the following:

  • A neurologic exam is also called neuro signs, neuro checks, or neuro status. A neurologic exam can show healthcare providers how well your brain works after your injury. Healthcare providers will check how your pupils react to light. They may check your memory and how easily you wake up. Your hand grasp and balance may also be tested.
  • CT or MRI pictures may be taken of your head. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

What can I do to manage or prevent a sports concussion?

Usually no treatment is needed for a mild concussion. Concussion symptoms usually go away within 10 days, but they may last longer. The following may be recommended to manage your symptoms:

  • Have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours after your injury. Your healthcare provider should be called if your symptoms get worse, or you develop new symptoms.
  • Rest from physical and mental activities as directed. Mental activities are those that require thinking, concentration, and attention. You will need to rest until your symptoms are gone. Rest will allow you to recover from your concussion. Ask your healthcare provider when you can return to work and other daily activities.
  • Create a sleep schedule. Sleep is an important part of recovery from a concussion. Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how much sleep is right for you. A sleep schedule can help make sure you are getting the right amount of sleep. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. Do not use electronic devices or watch TV an hour before you go to sleep. These screens may make it harder to go to sleep or to stay asleep. Keep a record of how much you sleep each night. Bring the record to follow-up visits with your healthcare providers.
  • Do not participate in sports or physical activities until your healthcare provider says it is okay. Sports and physical activities could make your symptoms worse or lead to another concussion. Another concussion can cause a condition called second impact syndrome. This means you have another concussion before you have recovered from the first. Second impact syndrome can be life-threatening.
  • Wear protective sports equipment that fits properly. Helmets help decrease your risk of a serious brain injury. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways you can decrease your risk for a concussion.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What is a return to play protocol?

This is a procedure to decide if it is safe to return to a sports event after a suspected concussion. Healthcare providers who are trained in sports medicine will examine players who have a blow to the head. They look for signs of a concussion such as confusion, dizziness, and nausea. Players who have these symptoms will not be allowed to return to the field of play.

Have someone call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You cannot be woken.
  • You have a seizure, increasing confusion, or a change in personality.
  • Your speech becomes slurred.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have sudden or new vision problems.
  • Your pupils are different sizes.
  • You have a severe headache that does not go away.
  • You do not recognize people or places that should be familiar to you.
  • You have arm or leg weakness, numbness, or new problems with coordination.
  • You have blood or clear fluid coming out of your ears or nose.
  • You cannot stop vomiting.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • Your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks after the injury.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Sports Concussion

Treatment options

Care guides

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.