What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury caused by a sudden hit, bump or blow to the head, face, neck, or other parts of the body. Such impacts can cause the brain to move quickly within the skull. If this movement is hard enough, it can cause injury to the brain and changes to the way the brain works.


  • Every year about 1,000 people visit the emergency department in Waterloo Region due to concussions.
  • People of any age can get a concussion.
  • Only a medical doctor or nurse practitioner can diagnose a concussion and they will help you in your recovery based on your individual needs.
  • A concussion can occur as a result of any number of activities including sports, recreational or everyday activities.
  • Common causes of concussions include slips, trips and falls, motor vehicle crashes, and being struck by or against an object or another person.
  • Children and youth are more likely to get a concussion, and take longer to recover than adults.
  • No two concussions are the same and each concussion needs a different plan for recovery.
  • Concussions can occur without loss of consciousness.
  • Recovery from a concussion is a gradual process and can take a long time for some people.
  • There is no protective equipment that protects you from getting a concussion, not even helmets! Equipment can help reduce the risk and severity of injuries to the face and skull such as fractures.
  • Concussions cannot be seen or diagnosed by imaging tests such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Presented by Dr. Mike Evans

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms can appear right away after getting hurt or may take hours or days to develop. Concussions can last 10-14 days in adults, and up to four weeks in children and youth. A concussion should be suspected if one or more of the following signs or symptoms are present:

Physical symptoms

  • Headache
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Poor balance or coordination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • “Pressure in the head”
  • Light sensitivity
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Neck pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness


 Cognitive (thinking) changes

  • Feeling slowed down
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feeling ‘in a fog’

Emotional changes

  • Irritability
  • Feeling more sad or nervous than usual
  • Anxiety

Sleep Changes

  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Sleeping less than usual
  • Drowsiness

Emergency Physical Symptoms

Get medical help immediately if you experience or observe ANY of the following symptoms after an injury:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe or increasing headache
  • Seizures
  • Double vision
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Very tired or lethargic
  • Weakness or tingling in arms or legs

For more information on the signs and symptoms of concussions, see the Concussion Recognition Tool 5©


What to Do: Recovering from a Concussion

  • Proper management of concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death. Concussions can go untreated if the signs and symptoms are not recognized or ignored.
  • If you have a concussion it is important to rest your mind and your body for at least 24-48 hours after injury.
  • Talk to your medical doctor or nurse practitioner about developing a gradual and individualized plan to return to normal activities such as school, sports and work.
  • If symptoms last longer than expected ask your medical doctor or nurse practitioner for a referral to other health professionals that specialize in concussion management.
Why is Recovery Important?
  • Your brain needs time to heal. Returning to activities too quickly may put you at risk for worsening symptoms that may be more severe and last longer.
  • A person who suffers a second concussion before a previous concussion has healed properly could develop Second-Impact Syndrome — a serious condition that causes rapid and severe swelling of the brain.

External Resources

More information about concussions can be found on the following websites:

If you are looking for information about concussion legislation, visit the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport website

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