In a word: yes. It is possible to get a concussion without hitting your head.
All concussions are considered traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. They are, in fact, the most common form of traumatic brain injury, with up to nearly 4 million occurring per year, half of which go unreported.
If you are wondering what causes a concussion, most come from a direct blow to the head, but research shows that concussions can also occur secondarily to physical trauma elsewhere in the body that don’t get immediate chiropractic therapy. If the trauma causes the brain to move very quickly within the skull – referred to as acceleration or deceleration of the brain – the brain may briefly change shape within the skull, resulting in a concussion. This kind of movement can happen in the case of things like tackles to the chest, which can cause the brain to accelerate from the impact.
Signs & Symptoms of Concussions
Most concussions begin causing symptoms right away. There are four categories of symptoms that you should pay attention to.
- Cognition: You may have issues with thinking or with memory. Some people report that they can’t remember what happened before the injury, or they may report a sense of mental “fogginess.”
- Physical: Many patients with concussions complain of light and sound sensitivity. You will also most likely experience a severe headache.
- Mood: Due to its effect on the brain, concussions have the ability to affect your emotions. You may find yourself experiencing increased sadness, irritability, or anxiety.
- Sleep: After sustaining a concussion, you will most likely notice differences in your sleep, including both insomnia (difficulty sleeping at night) and hypersomnia (increased daytime sleepiness).
Other symptoms include difficulty walking (lack of balance), nausea or vomiting, dizziness, blurry vision, difficulty with concentration, mood swings, and extreme fatigue. A concussion can also feel like a constant headache.
People experience the symptoms differently, depending on their pre-existing level of health, the environment and circumstances in which the concussion occurred, and the severity of the concussion. Also, while this is rare, not all concussions are immediately apparent, especially more mild concussions. If you have recently experienced any kind of blow to the head or intense impact to another place in the body, you should monitor yourself for traumatic brain injury symptoms for up to three days after the incident.
Causes of Concussions
Concussions happen most frequently as a result of sports injuries. 2 out of 10 high school athletes involved in contact sports end up sustaining concussions as a result of their participation. This can include but is not limited to sports like American football, lacrosse, or rugby.
Another common cause is falls, especially for older people. As we age, all functions of our body begin to decline, and that can include the mechanisms required for movement – our sense of equilibrium or the strength of our musculoskeletal system. For that reason, people aged 65 or older are at increased risk for falls: 1 in 4 of this population report experiencing a fall in the past year, and those odds increase for adults in environments like nursing homes, where they are more likely to be frail. Between 2002 and 2006, this population had the highest rates of hospitalization for traumatic brain injuries such as concussions.
Car crashes and other incidents that cause you to hit your head on another object are other big contributors to concussions. Have you ever stood up and banged your head on something above you, like on a shelf or open cabinet door? That alone can cause a concussion.
Risk Factors for Concussions
Some people are more vulnerable to potential concussions than others. The following may increase the likelihood of getting a concussion:
- People aged 65 or older
- Participation in contact sports, especially competitively
- Risk is higher for participation without appropriate sportswear or supervision
- Falls, especially for older adults and very young children
- Frequent urban bike-riding
- Participation in combat as a soldier
- Being a victim of physical abuse
- Having had a previous concussion
If any of these apply to you, you should be especially careful and monitor yourself for potential concussion symptoms.
Many people who suffer concussions also develop a secondary condition known as post-concussion syndrome. Most concussions resolve fully within two weeks, but post-concussion syndrome will cause prolonged symptoms that can last months. It can also develop into persistent post-concussive syndrome when symptoms last longer than three months.
Some people recover almost fully but still complain for months of post-traumatic headaches as the brain heals itself. Some people also experience a prolonged tendency towards vertigo after their concussion. Multiple concussions can result in permanent brain damage and lead to significant disability if not treated properly.
People who have gotten a concussion are at risk for a complication known as Second Impact Syndrome. This dangerous and fatal condition happens when a person who already has a concussion experiences a second instance of their brain swelling or moving. The second impact may be weak and still cause devastating consequences. In many cases, death and lifelong disability can occur.
It is important to seek treatment for concussions because the complications of an untreated concussion can have lifelong consequences. A doctor can help you develop a head injury treatment plan unique to you and your circumstances, but there are a few common lifestyle changes that can help accelerate the recovery process.
- Take over-the-counter medications such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin. Take these according to the directions on the bottle, unless otherwise instructed by a doctor.
- Hydrate your body by drinking a lot of water. Research suggests that the bodies of people who are more hydrated are more equipped to heal damaged tissue.
- Get lots of rest! For at least the first three days after injury, try to do as little as possible.
- Avoid alcohol and other substances. These can prevent your body from healing itself as quickly as it should.
- Minimize light, including that coming from devices like TVs, phones, and other electronics. The stimulation of the brain from the use of these devices can cause symptoms to worsen.
- Chiropractic therapy can also be a useful tool for managing the symptoms of a concussion.