APEX Brain Centers

Head-On: Concussion Effects and Prevention

In the fast-paced world of sports, the world of healthcare, and even in our daily lives, the term “concussion” has become all too familiar. 

It’s a word that carries weight, conjuring images of athletes colliding on the field, or perhaps a fall that leaves a person disoriented. But what exactly is a concussion, and what are its effects beyond the momentary dizziness and confusion? 

These traumatic brain injuries can temporarily affect brain function, causing immediate symptoms such as headaches, concentration issues, memory problems, and issues with balance and coordination (Mayo Clinic). In addition to short-term symptoms, concussions can also have longer-lasting effects that, if not approached with care, can negatively impact one’s brain and body health. It’s crucial for both athletes and non-athletes alike to understand the short-term symptoms and long-term effects of concussions, as well as available resources for preventing concussions and maintaining optimal brain function.

By understanding the full impact of concussions, individuals can make informed decisions about their brain health and overall well-being and, when necessary, seek appropriate interventions, such as those offered at APEX Brain Centers.

The Anatomy of a Concussion

A concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury that affects brain function, usually caused by a blow to the head or a violent shaking of the head and upper body; such as in whiplash injury. Effects of a concussion can be temporary but may include headaches, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and issues with balance and coordination (1). 

Though considered a “mild” traumatic brain injury, a concussion should be treated seriously and with care. At APEX Brain Centers, we understand the importance of addressing the complex pathophysiology of concussions. Additionally, within the concussion category, there exists a spectrum of severity.

Types of concussions: Not All Concussions Are Created Equal

It’s crucial to recognize that not all concussions are the same. The severity and specific symptoms can vary depending on the cause and the force of impact. Here’s a brief overview of the different types of concussions:

Mild Concussion: This is the most common type and typically results in temporary confusion, dizziness, and mild headache. Symptoms usually resolve within a few days to a few weeks.

Moderate Concussion: A moderate concussion may involve more pronounced symptoms, including memory loss and a longer recovery period.

Severe Concussion: Severe concussions are less common but can have more profound and prolonged effects. They may involve a loss of consciousness for an extended period and more severe cognitive deficits.

Sports-Related Concussion: These concussions are often associated with athletic activities and can vary widely in severity depending on the sport and the nature of the collision.

Second Impact Syndrome: When a person sustains a second concussion before fully recovering from the first, it can lead to second impact syndrome, which can be life-threatening.

Understanding the different types of concussions helps in assessing the appropriate response, treatment, and expected outcomes for each case.

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Concussion Prevention

Understanding What Happens During a Concussion

When a concussion occurs, the brain, which has the consistency of uncooked liver or firm gelatin, is subjected to forceful movement within the skull. This movement can cause injuries to blood vessels, leading to the collection of blood in abnormal places, referred to as hematomas (2). In addition, a concussion can lead to changes in post-injury neurotransmitter concentrations, such as glutamate and GABA, as well as neuroinflammatory responses and neuroplasticity changes (3).

Repeated concussions that are not adequately recovered can lead to a chronic brain injury syndrome known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) (4). Recognizing and understanding the anatomy of a concussion is essential for effective prevention and helping with the recovery process. At APEX Brain Centers, we prioritize a thorough assessment, a personalized approach, and targeted interventions to help individuals optimize their brain health and function.

Immediate and Long-Term Effects: Beyond the Initial Injury

The consequences of a concussion extend beyond the immediate impact. It’s crucial to understand both the short-term and long-term effects to appreciate the full scope of this injury.

Short-Term Concussion Symptoms

Concussions often bring about a range of immediate symptoms that can vary in intensity from person to person. The most prominent and common of these symptoms is the onset of a headache, which can be quite severe. Individuals may also experience dizziness, characterized by a sensation of unsteadiness or spinning in more severe cases, making it challenging to maintain balance.

Nausea and vomiting can occur, leaving individuals feeling sick to their stomachs or leading to actual vomiting. Furthermore, concussions often heighten sensitivity to both light and noise, causing discomfort and potentially worsening other symptoms.

Fatigue is another common immediate effect, with individuals experiencing profound tiredness, sometimes persisting for weeks to months following the injury. Cognitive difficulties may emerge, including problems with thinking, concentration, and memory. These challenges can be frustrating and disorienting and often lead to struggles at work and in relationships.

Emotional changes are also prevalent in the immediate aftermath of a concussion. Mood swings, irritability, and anxiety can manifest, making it important to provide emotional support to individuals as they navigate the challenging initial stages of recovery. Recognizing and addressing these immediate effects is essential for effective concussion management and ensuring the well-being of those who have sustained head injuries.

Long-Term Concussion Symptoms

In addition to the immediate symptoms of a concussion, many individuals also experience a longer-term impact after sustaining a concussion. Long-term consequences of concussions can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, making it vital to be aware of these potential outcomes that are often thought unrelated to the initial injury by patients and doctors alike. 

Some individuals experience what is known as Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). This condition involves persistent symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after the initial injury. These symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, cognitive difficulties, and mood disturbances, and they can significantly disrupt an individual’s life and well-being. Fatigue, gut dysfunction, and dysautonomia are often consequences of PCS as well. Understanding these long-term effects underscores the importance of proper concussion management, prevention, and ongoing care to mitigate their impact on individuals’ lives.

Cognitive impairment is another long-term effect that individuals with concussions may face.  Concussions can result in long-term functional and structural alterations in the brain. Although these changes do not always significantly impact cognitive performance, some studies suggest the cognitive impacts of concussion are more common than previously thought. Persistent memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and other cognitive deficits can persist long after the physical injury has healed. These challenges can hinder daily life and affect an individual’s ability to work, study, or engage in normal activities. 

Another area of cognitive function that may suffer due to a concussion is attention and concentration. Following a concussion, individuals might find it difficult to focus on tasks for extended periods, which can create challenges in numerous life domains, such as work, school, or personal relationships. Patients coming to us are often on stimulants such as Adderall for attention and focus, when earlier intervention with functional neurology would likely have been effective for improving these cognitive abilities. Additionally, research has shown that concussions can lead to faster rates of cognitive decline later in life, particularly if the injury occurs after the age of 24, or if it results in a loss of consciousness.

Concussions can also trigger emotional and behavioral changes. Depression, anxiety, impulsivity, and personality changes are among the psychological consequences that can result from repeated head injuries. These shifts in mood and behavior can be challenging to manage and may require ongoing support and therapy.

Lastly, one of the most concerning long-term conditions is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a progressive, degenerative brain condition often associated with repeated head injuries, particularly in sports. CTE can lead to cognitive decline, mood disturbances, and a range of debilitating symptoms that can worsen significantly over time without proper care.

Understanding these effects emphasizes the importance of proper management, prevention, and ongoing care for individuals who have experienced concussions.

Identifying and Diagnosing Concussions

When a person experiences a head injury, it is crucial to seek medical attention for a proper evaluation and diagnosis of a concussion. In our practice at APEX Brain Centers, our team of professionals performs an initial assessment to determine the presence and severity of a concussion. Our process typically involves a combination of tests and examinations to aid in the diagnosis.

During this extensive 4-hour evaluation, doctors will conduct a thorough history assessing the patient’s status before and after their injury. This is followed by a thorough head-to-toe neurological evaluation and 5 areas of diagnostic testing including: EEG/qEEG, and testing of eye movements, cognitive function, balance and vestibular function, and motor timing. This comprehensive evaluation helps determine the extent of the brain injury and identify any underlying or related issues that need to be addressed.

In addition to the neurological examination, the doctor may order imaging tests like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or CT scan to assess any structural damage in the brain and rule out any potential issues like internal bleeding or swelling. It is important to note that concussions are often not visible through imaging tests, and a normal MRI result does not necessarily indicate the absence of a concussion.

The Role of Physical Activity in Concussions

In contact sports such as football, soccer, and hockey, athletes are at a higher risk for concussions due to the physical nature of these games. Falls and collisions can cause direct or indirect trauma to the head, leading to concussions and potentially affecting the autonomic nervous system and cerebral blood flow.

Considering the role of physical activity in concussion management, studies have reported a positive impact of exercise in facilitating recovery after a concussion. However, it’s crucial to ensure that the exercises are controlled and introduced at the appropriate time, as uncontrolled activity can exacerbate symptoms

Active rehabilitation programs can be tailored to the individual’s specific needs, taking into account factors such as the severity of the concussion, the athlete’s age, and their physical fitness level.

Thus, while physical activity can play a vital role in concussion recovery, it is essential to use a comprehensive and controlled approach to ensure safe and effective rehabilitation. Engaging in functional neurology and other rehabilitative therapies can optimize outcomes and help athletes return to their chosen sports with confidence and improved cognitive function.

The Metabolic Cascade and Recovery Process

The metabolic cascade is a crucial aspect to consider when understanding concussions and their impact. Following a concussion, the brain experiences a series of complex chemical and metabolic changes, often referred to as the neurometabolic cascade. These changes can 

Through our comprehensive approach, we aim to foster a supportive environment for individuals recovering from concussions, helping them regain their cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning. Our evidence-based interventions can complement traditional medical care, enabling patients to achieve a more complete and lasting recovery.

The Severity and Persistence of Symptoms

Mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, can result in a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. At APEX Brain Centers, we typically observe that common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and problems with concentration. In some cases, individuals may also experience emotional symptoms such as depression.

The duration of these symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Some individuals may recover quickly, while others may experience persistent issues for weeks, months, or even years. The key to effective recovery lies in understanding the individual’s unique needs and tailoring a comprehensive care plan accordingly.

In our practice at APEX Brain Centers, we focus on providing comprehensive care to address the needs of individuals with brain injuries. Our approach includes an emphasis on functional neurology, low-level laser therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and neurofeedback. We also utilize balance and vestibular therapies, eye movement rehabilitation, frequency-based modalities, metabolic and nutritional therapies, and home care programs to support recovery and promote optimum mental health.

Addressing the nutritional aspects of recovery is particularly important, as a diet rich in healthy fats can support brain function and overall well-being. This includes incorporating foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil into the individual’s diet.

It’s crucial to note that our experience over the past two decades has shown that mental health services become significantly more impactful when combined with functional neurology assessments and interventions. By integrating these approaches, we can create a more effective recovery plan and help our clients achieve lasting improvements in their cognitive function and emotional well-being.

Prevention and Protection from Concussions

Preventing concussions is a paramount concern at APEX Brain Centers, especially given the potentially devastating long-term consequences of these injuries. While it’s impossible to eliminate all risks entirely, there are proactive measures that individuals and communities can take to minimize the likelihood of sustaining a concussion.

Use Proper Safety Gear and Equipment

One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of a concussion is by using proper safety equipment such as helmets, mouthguards, and padding when engaging in activities that pose a risk of head injury.

These pieces of equipment are designed to absorb and distribute the force of an impact, helping to shield the head and brain from trauma. This is why helmets are commonly used in sports like football, hockey, cycling, and skiing, among others. 

The importance of selecting and wearing properly fitted helmets cannot be overstated, as they are a critical line of defense against concussions. Moreover, advancements in helmet technology continue to enhance their protective capabilities.

In addition to helmets, other protective gear, such as mouthguards, face shields, and padded clothing, can play a vital role in safeguarding against head injuries. Utilizing the appropriate protective gear for the specific activity can significantly reduce the risk of concussion. 

Properly positioned headrests and seat angles in motor vehicles can also significantly reduce the amount of whiplash injury one would sustain in a car accident; as whiplash a major cause of concussions worldwide.

Proper Technique: Minimizing Risk Through Skillful Practice

Proper technique in sports and activities is another essential aspect of concussion prevention. Coaches, instructors, and participants should prioritize teaching and practicing correct form and technique. This includes emphasizing safer tackling methods in contact sports, proper diving technique in the pool, and correct body positioning in gymnastics, to name a few examples. Proper head and neck positioning can significantly affect the concussion risk during contact sports. 

Athletes and individuals involved in high-impact activities should receive adequate training to ensure they understand and apply these techniques consistently. By doing so, they can minimize the likelihood of accidents that could lead to concussions. Education and training programs play a critical role in promoting proper technique and raising awareness of the importance of skillful practice in injury prevention.

Safety Measures: A Holistic Approach to Risk Reduction

Safety measures extend beyond the sports field and into everyday life. In homes, schools, workplaces, and recreational areas, individuals should be aware of potential hazards and take steps to mitigate them. For instance, in homes, safety measures like securing handrails, installing non-slip mats, and removing tripping hazards can prevent falls that often result in concussions, particularly among children and the elderly.

In schools and workplaces, safety protocols and equipment should be in place to minimize the risk of head injuries in activities such as construction, physical education, or sports practices. Safety gear, including hard hats and safety harnesses, is essential in industrial and construction settings to protect against head injuries. Additionally, we must stress the proper use of seat belts when riding in motor vehicles, as this can prevent traumatic brain injuries in case of car accidents.

It’s crucial to create a proactive culture surrounding concussion prevention by raising awareness and engaging all stakeholders, from athletes and parents to coaches and administrators. Afterall, concussion prevention is a shared responsibility that involves a combination of protective equipment, proper technique, safety measures, and a culture of awareness.

By implementing proper safety measures, using the appropriate protective equipment, and fostering a culture of education and awareness, we can significantly reduce the risk and impact of concussions on the lives of individuals and their families.

In the event one is unable to prevent a concussion, immediate attention is necessary to rule out any life-threatening issues such as a brain bleed or hematoma. Then, evaluation by a functional neurologist is of vital importance as the outdated “wait and see” approach simply does not work for so many! Our providers at APEX Brain Centers have been providing comprehensive concussion evaluation and care for a combined 30 years and understand the symptoms and associated outcomes related to all types of concussion; and, have the tools and expertise to help individuals get their brain and body health back on track after a concussion.

Dr. Michael S. Trayford is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Neurofeedback Specialist with over 20 years of experience in the practice of advanced functional neurology. He is one of the most highly sought-after brain rehabilitation specialists because of the life-changing outcomes his patients consistently experience. After over a decade in private practice and working alongside other pioneers in the field, Dr. Trayford developed his multimodal intensive brain training and rehabilitation program built around the science of Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to learn and grow dependent upon the stimulation it receives from its environment. He later founded APEX Brain Centers to combine his ground-breaking rehabilitation approach with a unique patient and caretaker-centered care model. Under Dr. Trayford’s leadership, APEX Brain Centers has successfully treated thousands of patients and earned the reputation of a world-renowned brain training and rehabilitation practice. Since its inception, Dr. Trayford has been a leader of the Brain Training revolution treating patients worldwide. In addition, he is a published journal contributor and international lecturer. His experience with various patients of all ages and neurological conditions has given him a unique perspective on brain health and human performance. He is also well-versed in collaborating with other health care professionals, making him an invaluable asset to any care team. Dr. Trayford was awarded the Functional Neurologist of the Year distinction by the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation, where he is a proud member and conference lecturer. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Council for the Dementia Society of America and the Board of Directors for the International Society for Neuroregulation and Research. He is also a servant leader who has dedicated his adult life to serving multiple communities through Rotary International and other notable causes. When he’s not treating patients, Dr. Trayford usually reads or researches anything related to the brain, human performance, and leadership. He also loves spending time outdoors with his wife Denise, their two daughters, and dogs in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. https://www.linkedin.com/in/drmichaeltrayford/

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