What happens to the brain when a concussion happens?
Inside your skull you have cerebrospinal fluid and of course your brain. A violent impact causes your brain to vibrate and sometimes even bump against the skull bone. If the force is too much, you end up with a concussion. Ironically, the trauma that occurs when the brain hits the skull is often not evident because the damage is on the inside. It is known as the “Silent Injury” according to Dr. Lovell from the University of Pittsburgh’s medical center which researches concussions.
Once common mistake is assuming that because you didn’t get “knocked out” the hit to your head was minimal. If you experience vomiting, dilated pupils, loss of smell or taste you should visit with a neurologist immediately. Additional negative symptoms after a head impact are headaches, dizziness or memory loss lasting more than five days or delayed memory of easy questions (i.e. what did you eat for breakfast yesterday morning?).
Four Stages of a Concussion
Impact to the head – The most common causes of concussions are falls, car accidents, impact sports and explosions. The trauma causes force to the head in two directions: linear (forwards and backwards) or rotational (side to side). These forces literally cause your brain to “slosh” within the cerebrospinal fluid and bump up against the skull.
Inflammation – Trauma to the brain can damage neurons, the cells that govern the flow of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. In the worst case scenario, those damaged neurons lose control of the neurotransmitters, allowing them to accelerate up to five (5x) their normal speed. The resulting chemical acceleration can cause memory loss, blurred vision, dizziness, headache and nausea.
Hibernation – Your brain’s cortex detects the neurotransmitter imbalance and tries to fix the neurons by calling for a surge of healing glucose. At the same time, calcium neurotransmitters start constricting the blood vessels, delaying glucose from reaching the neurons. Your brain function slows until blood flow returns to normal.
Recovery – Healing the neurons within your brain can take several weeks.. However, if you sustain another concussion during this period, you could suffer permanent damage and a lifetime of headaches and other adverse side effects. Though it is hard for competitive athletes, staying away from the potential of re-hitting your head, rest & proper nutrition will facilitate the recovery process.
Note: if you experience headaches after hitting your head, DO NOT consume aspirin or ibuprofen (this may increase your risk of brain bleeding); instead use acetaminophen.