It’s Time We Redefine Concussion Symptoms

As a concussion researcher, I am constantly surprised by the misunderstanding surrounding concussions. The typical comment I hear from friends, family, parents, and athletes is “I don’t think I’ve ever had a concussion because I have never been knocked out”; or “I’ve hit my head and felt dizzy but I didn’t have a headache, so it must not have been a concussion”. Well the truth of the matter is that less than 10% of sports-related concussions actually involve a loss of consciousness (Guskiewicz, Weaver et al., 2000), and although headache is one of the most commonly reported symptoms (Kontos et al., under review), headaches do not have to occur for a person to have experienced a concussion. Another unfortunate reality is that athletes may not actually understand the signs and symptoms of a concussion, nor the potential negative consequences of them. This means that many athletes will continue playing their sport while having concussion symptoms or returning to play too quickly. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), common symptoms of concussion include: headache, fuzzy or blurred vision, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise, balance problems, fatigue, irritability, sleep issues, difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, and being more emotional or anxious. But the one thing to remember with these symptoms is that not every individual will experience all of them. Also, an individual may not be able to describe their symptoms well. For instance, a 7 year old may not be able to describe feeling anxious. Finally, these symptoms may not appear all at once, and they may take time to develop. The key point here is that to dispel the myths surrounding concussions, we need better understanding of the variety of symptoms that an individual can experience. The only way this can happen is through better concussion education for athletes, coaches, trainers, and parents. Better concussion education will eventually lead to concussion prevention, which we can all hope, will result in fewer athletes experiencing the negative consequences of concussion.

By Carrie Esopenko, PhD

For a hot off the presses review of concussion management please read:

Littleton A, Guskiewicz K, Current concepts in sport concussion management: A multifaceted approach, Journal of Sport and Health Science (2013),


Categories: Concussions in sports

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