Signs of a Concussion

Summer is ending, school supplies have been in stores since the 4th of July, and fall decorations have been out for weeks.  If you have high school children, they likely started sports several weeks ago.  Or if you have elementary age children, youth football, soccer and field hockey will begin soon.  What do all these sports have in common regardless of the age group?  Each of them involves contact and can lead to concussions.  According to an American Academy of Pediatrics article in November 2019, football had the highest rate of concussions, but female athletes (particularly soccer players) had the highest rate of recurrent concussions.

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury that can occur from a blow to the head or body, causing the brain to move within the skull. High school students, who are often involved in sports and other physical activities, are susceptible to concussions. Recognizing the signs of a concussion is crucial for timely diagnosis and appropriate management. Here are some common signs of a concussion in high school students:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Headache or pressure in the head.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Dizziness or balance problems.
  • Sensitivity to light or noise.
  • Fatigue or tiredness.
  • Blurred vision.

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Confusion or feeling dazed.
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering.
  • Slower thinking or processing information.
  • Feeling mentally foggy or hazy

Emotional and Mood Changes:

  • Irritability or mood swings.
  • Anxiety or nervousness.
  • Sadness or depression.
  • Emotional sensitivity.

Sleep Disturbances:

  • Trouble falling asleep.
  • Sleeping more or less than usual.
  • Restless sleep or difficulty staying asleep.

Behavioral Changes:

  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Social withdrawal or isolation.
  • Increased irritability or impulsive behavior.

Physical Coordination and Balance:

  • Clumsiness or stumbling.
  • Difficulty with coordination and balance.
  • Inability to walk straight or maintain balance.

Delayed Symptoms:

Some concussion symptoms may not appear immediately after the injury. They can emerge hours or days later, so it’s important to monitor for changes in behavior, mood, and physical well-being even after the initial impact.

It’s important to note that every individual may experience concussions differently, and not all symptoms may be present. Additionally, the severity of symptoms can vary widely. If you suspect your child has sustained a concussion, it’s crucial to follow these steps:

  1. Remove from Play: If the injury occurred during a sports activity, the athlete should be removed from play immediately to prevent further harm.
  2. Seek Medical Attention: A medical professional, such as a doctor or nurse, should evaluate the athlete to diagnose and manage the concussion properly.
  3. Rest and Recovery: Resting the brain is essential for recovery. This includes both physical and mental rest, such as limiting screen time, schoolwork, and cognitive activities.
  4. Follow Medical Advice: Follow any guidance provided by medical professionals, which may include steps for symptom management, returning to physical activity, and monitoring for changes.
  5. Gradual Return to Activity: After receiving medical clearance, a gradual return-to-play protocol should be followed to ensure the athlete’s safety and full recovery.
  6. Communicate: Keep communication open between parents, teachers, coaches, and healthcare providers to ensure the athlete’s well-being and proper recovery.

Concussions, often referred to as “invisible injuries,” can have lasting effects on an individual’s cognitive, physical, and emotional well-being. The identification of these subtle yet significant indicators is crucial in ensuring timely and appropriate intervention, which can greatly influence the trajectory of recovery and mitigate potential long-term consequences.  And while it can be scary to watch your child play sports where concussions are an inherent risk, proper equipment, adequate training, and adhering to medical advice when an injury occurs can reduce the risk.  Top of Form


Written by Kelly Reising who is passionate about nutrition, fitness and health. 

Dr. Mc Millan is a Board-Certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon practicing in the Virtua Health System of south Jersey.  For more information please visit or follow us on twitter @sportsdrsean. 

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