Head Injuries

Leading an active lifestyle is an important component to staying healthy, but participating in sports can leave you vulnerable to injury, even if you’re wearing a helmet or other protective athletic gear.

Diagnosis and Treatment

 Each year, there are between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States alone. Because many concussions go unreported, it is difficult to estimate precisely the rate of concussion in any sport.

Concussion symptoms differ with each individual, and knowing when it is safe for an athlete to return to play is not always clear.

The recognition and management of concussion in athletes can be difficult for a number of reasons:

  1. Athletes who have experienced a concussion can display a wide variety of symptoms. Although the classic symptoms of headaches, dizziness, nausea, and/or balance problems may be present in some athletes with mild concussion, there may or may not be obvious signs — such as loss of consciousness or amnesia — when a concussion has occurred.
  2. Post-concussion symptoms can be quite subtle and may go unnoticed by the athlete, team medical staff, or coaches. Many coaches and other team personnel may have limited training in recognizing signs and symptoms of concussion and therefore may not accurately diagnose the injury when it has occurred.
  3. Players may be reluctant to report concussive symptoms for fear that they will be removed from the game, which may jeopardize their status on the team or their athletic careers.
  4. Traditional neurological and radiological procedures — such as CT, MRI, and BEG — although invaluable in discerning more serious head injuries, are not consistently useful in evaluating the effects of mild head injuries.

Recovery and Safe Return to Play

It is crucial to allow enough healing and recovery time following a concussion to prevent further damage. Poorly managed concussions may be cumulative over time, but with proper management, we are able to mitigate increased vulnerability and poor outcomes.

Most athletes who experience concussion can recover completely with proper management.

Following the initial injury, there is a period of time in which the brain is more vulnerable due to metabolic changes. This period of vulnerability differs for each individual and with each separate injury.

During the period of vulnerability, the brain can easily be reinjured with less biomechanical force. Repeated injuries during the period of vulnerability may lead to catastrophic neurological events.

Tools such as ImPACT™ can help medical professionals trained in concussion management make safe return-to-play decisions by comparing an athlete's brain function before and after a suspected concussion.

At the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, doctors and certified athletic trainers can provide a fast, accurate assessment of minor head injuries, using ImPACT.

For further information on safe return-to-play, download the sideline concussion signs and symptoms evaluation card (PDF).

Content on this page is for informational purposes only. If injured, please consult a physician. 

​ReThink Concussions

For more information and to learn more about concussions, please visit ReThinkConcussions.com.

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