What happens when you have a concussion? – Clifford Robbins

Each year in the United States, players of sports
and recreational activities receive between 2.5
and 4 million concussions. How dangerous are all those concussions? The answer is complicated, and lies in how the brain responds
when something strikes it. The brain is made of soft fatty tissue,
with a consistency something like jello. Inside its protective membranes
and the skull’s hard casing, this delicate organ
is usually well-shielded. But a sudden jolt can make the brain shift and bump against
the skull’s hard interior, and unlike jello, the brain’s tissue
isn’t uniform. It’s made of a vast network
of 90 billion neurons, which relay signals through their long
axons to communicate throughout the brain and control our bodies. This spindly structure makes
them very fragile so that when impacted, neurons
will stretch and even tear. That not only disrupts their ability
to communicate but as destroyed axons begin
to degenerate, they also release toxins
causing the death of other neurons, too. This combination of events causes
a concussion. The damage can manifest
in many different ways including blackout, headache, blurry vision, balance problems, altered mood and behavior, problems with memory,
thinking, and sleeping, and the onset of anxiety and depression. Every brain is different, which explains why people’s experiences
of concussions vary so widely. Luckily, the majority of concussions
fully heal and symptoms disappear
within a matter of days or weeks. Lots of rest and a gradual return
to activity allows the brain to heal itself. On the subject of rest, many people have heard that
you’re not supposed to sleep shortly after receiving a concussion
because you might slip into a coma. That’s a myth. So long as doctors aren’t concerned there
may also be a more severe brain injury, like a brain bleed, there’s no documented problem with
going to sleep after a concussion. Sometimes, victims of concussion can
experience something called post-concussion syndrome, or PCS. People with PCS may experience
constant headaches, learning difficulties, and behavioral symptoms that even
affect their personal relationships for months or years after the injury. Trying to play through a concussion,
even for only a few minutes, or returning to sports too soon
after a concussion, makes it more likely to develop PCS. In some cases, a concussion
can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms unfold slowly
over time. That’s often true of
subconcussive impacts which result from lower impact jolts
to the head than those that cause concussions. This category of injury doesn’t cause
noticable symptoms right away, but can lead to severe degenerative
brain diseases over time if it happens repeatedly. Take soccer players, who are known
for repeatedly heading soccer balls. Using a technique called
Diffusion Tensor Imaging, we’re beginning to find out what effect
that has on the brain. This method allows scientists to find
large axon bundles and see how milder blows
might alter them structurally. In 2013, researchers using
this technique discovered that athletes who had
headed the ball most, about 1,800 times a year, had damaged the structural integrity
of their axon bundles. The damage was similar to how
a rope will fail when the individual fibers start to fray. Those players also performed worse
on short-term memory tests, so even though no one suffered
full-blown concussions, these subconcussive hits added up
to measurable damage over time. In fact, researchers know that an
overload of subconcussive hits is linked to a degenerative brain disease
known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. People with CTE suffer from changes
in their mood and behavior that begin appearing in their 30s or 40s followed by problems with thinking
and memory that can, in some cases, even result
in dementia. The culprit is a protein called tau. Usually, tau proteins support tiny tubes
inside our axons called microtubules. It’s thought that repeated subconcussive
hits damage the microtubules, causing the tau proteins to dislodge
and clump together. The clumps disrupt transport
and communication along the neuron and drive the breakdown of connections
within the brain. Once the tau proteins
start clumping together, they cause more clumps to form and continue to spread
throughout the brain, even after head impacts have stopped. The data show that at least
among football players, between 50 and 80% of concussions
go unreported and untreated. Sometimes that’s because it’s hard to tell a concussion has occurred
in the first place. But it’s also often due to pressure
or a desire to keep going despite the fact that something’s wrong. This doesn’t just undermine recovery. It’s also dangerous. Our brains aren’t invincible. They still need us to shield
them from harm and help them undo damage
once it’s been done.

About the author


  1. I had a minor concussion today after falling off a horse and my head kills 😅 I hit my back and got winded but yeah I’m fine. I get a bit feisty and I’m playing hockey tomorrow soooo hopefully I’ll be ok

  2. A few weeks ago, one of my classmates randomnly (I AM NOT JOKING) punched me in my head (pretty hard, though)… seeing this video makes me wanna kill her 🙂

  3. (This story is true)
    When I was a baby I got a concussion from falling down the stairs
    And now I’m pretty smart but I don’t remember half of the stuff I learned

  4. This video was painful to watch… I've had two concussions the past year and thankfully have recovered well but I still experience mild symptoms… For a while I couldn't understand any of my AP classes and was scared I would never be the same again
    Had to miss almost all of the swim season because of it
    stay safe and always be aware of your surroundings

  5. When I was about twelve, I fell down from a pony on my head once. I immediately got back up and continued riding. Later I blacked out completely and forgot the rest of my ride in its entirety. I was diagnosed with a mild concussion.

    In the year after, I had migraines every week, which got less and less in the years after. I still wonder if the two are connected or whether they can even be connected.

  6. I ran full bore forehead first into a piece of ply board overhang. I knocked myself flat on my back. I saw stars. Which means I had a concussion. Another time I was playing softball, someone threw the ball and it hit me in the back of my head and I crumpled to the ground. I didn't lose consciousness or get dizzy or see stars or anything. I don't recall any serious side effects that made me concerned. Bullets whiz by my head and past my ears, so far none have hit there mark. Thanks be to God.

  7. Within the same week me and my brother both had a concussion. My brother dove into our coffee table, he didn’t really complain much. So none of us thought much of it. Although I could tell he acted quite odd. The next morning he had a rare form of a seizure his hand only shook and I heard him drop his toothbrush 2 times. I just thought he was being clumsy first grader, so I thought nothing of it. At school that day he had seizure during lunch, I watched the entire thing. And I was crying. I was in 3rd grade and I was traumatized..
    Shortly after I was on a trampoline and I hit my head near the metal pole, but I didn’t tough any metal but I had gotten very dizzy, and I started crying and I ran home and left my bike at my neighbors house. My concussion wasn’t that bad compared to my brother. And within that same week my dad had an allergic reaction to shellfish. And is entire family was in Virginia without him. He didn’t die tho. But yeah, my story that happened all within a week.

  8. I’m going through post-concussion syndrome right now. I was rear-ended late last year, on my final week of classes (and my degree). If my doctor had stressed to me to rest for 2 weeks, I would’ve followed through, but because I didn’t, I’m paying for it now.

    I’m sensitive to light, especially when flashing, I feel more depressed nowadays, I’ll randomly have a crying fit, I have blurry vision, loss of balance, and my grammar is sometimes switched or I pause and lose my train of thought often. It’s getting worse as the stress piles on: I was really freaked out last week, an instructor was having a hard time trying to explain something to me in the simplest way, and I was trying so hard to listen, but I just couldn’t hear what they were telling me to do. I also zone out or get distracted easily when reading directions, or listening to people talk in-general.

    I have to go to a concussion clinic to get checked outs. But I’m afraid of them telling me that I need to take 3-4 months off from my Master’s program to recover. I know it’s the only way for me to be myself again, and succeed in school, but it really upsets me.

  9. I hit my head 2 days ago and i proceeded to physical activity a day after with no clue i may have a concussion and now i have a severe headache and I'm moving a bit slowly. I really wish that i didn't put physical activity on my self cause now im scared that i may have PCS and😞just why

  10. I got a concussion when a metal pole fell on my head back in year 4 ( I was 8-9) .
    The pole was wobbly and A guy was playing with it , when it fell I was right next to it and guess what happened next

  11. My mom was riding a four wheeler and the Vehicle roll over with my little brother thankfully nothing happened to him but my mother head was bleeding she had a concussion this video was helpful to understand what she’s going through

  12. One time I got a concussion and my mom right before I went to sleep she said “you might get a coma you know”

  13. As someone who had multiple head injuries last fall and recently got over PCS I cringed every time that soccer player hit the ball with her head, even though it's animated. Nothing makes you more aware of what you do with your head than a concussion.

  14. I've only ever suffered one concussion in my life, it was a very minor concussion, and it was still very intensely uncomfortable…..I felt sick for days and days afterward.

  15. The weird thing is that the brain named itself. It’s also learning about itself. Think about that for a second.

  16. If you get minor concussion about once a year can your brain still heal enough and is it a huge deal
    I saw videos saying if you heal all the way it’s not that bad as long as they are minor

  17. So today someone through a small rock at my had that was about 3 inches long, I was immediately dazed, lost balance, and my upper jaw went numb, a few hours later, my jaw is still numb and I just feel weird, is it all in my head (no pun intended) or should I tell me parents I think I have a concussion

  18. I had a TERRIBLE concussion after a luge crash and I had every single possible manifestation possible of a concussion. It took me 6 months of 5 different kinds of therapy to become symptom free.

  19. Every one just said you can get concussions from sport can you get it from hitting your head on a door cuz that’s what I did and I have had a head ache for about a week and a half now ….?

  20. 2 years ago I got post concussion syndrome…went on anti depressants and it helped heal faster. Only issue I had was eye strain…sadly I got another concussion but this time I know what to do!

  21. This is exactly why I have chosen to stop watching all forms of American football — NFL and college. I simply do not want to encourage people to play that sport as it is currently played, by choosing to give my viewership to it, which in turn, leads to higher revenues for the sport and its players.

    CTE is responsible for an enormous amount of suffering, including suicides and homicides. American football needs to change. I used to watch the NFL avidly every week. Now that I don't watch it, I no longer miss it, and I have a lot more time for doing other things.

  22. ,,our brain still needs our help" said the brain to the brain, litteraly all we are is a brain with tools around itself for protection and movement

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