Concussions can cause serious health complications, but they don’t show up in typical imaging tests. Where should you turn for diagnosis and treatment?

It happened. Your child took the field for the first time and knocked heads with another player.

When you get home, you notice your little athlete seems groggy and is complaining of a headache. It’s possible your child may have a mild traumatic brain injury—also known as a concussion—that could require treatment from a specialist.

Not a Mild Injury

A fall, jolt, or an impact that interferes with the normal function of the brain may cause a concussion. However, the term “mild traumatic brain injury” can be misleading.

“The way the injury occurs is mild—not the injury itself,” says Nina Routon, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Concussion Specialist on staff at Carson Tahoe Health. “A concussion can still have very severe symptoms, even if it’s caused by a small bump on your head with no bruising or bleeding.”

“Concussions affect the connections within the brain and the way the brain communicates,” Routon says. “Concussions can’t be measured by a CT scan or an MRI. However, some symptoms, such as signs of internal bleeding, can be detected and should be treated as an emergency.”

Uncontrollable vomiting and bruising around the eyes are among signs of a brain bleed. Other symptoms that should be treated in an emergency room include the inability to remain conscious, speak, or move one side of the body.

Concussion Symptoms and Solutions

There are countless concussion symptoms, according to Routon, but some of the more common ones to watch for are:

  • Headaches and neck pain
  • Difficulty focusing, concentrating, or remembering
  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Irritability, sadness, or other changes in emotion
  • Sleeping more often or trouble falling asleep
  • Vision problems

If any of these symptoms appear and don’t improve within a few days, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. You may also need to ask your doctor about specialty care or physical therapy.

“Concussions are still a relatively new field of study in neurology, so patients and their families may need to be their own advocates,” Routon says. “Physical therapists, neuropsychologists, and other specialists can help speed up recovery from a concussion.”

While some concussions may resolve on their own within a week, others may require days or months of therapy to improve vision, balance, pain, and more.

“We want patients to return to their daily lives,” Routon says. “The key is helping the brain adjust slowly over time, using an individualized therapy plan.”

Don’t wait until an injury or illness happens to locate emergency services near you.