Is It a Bump on the Head, or Is It a Concussion?

By Cara Reddy, MD

Signs and symptoms of a concussion may not be noticeable right away. How do you know if it's just a bump on the head, or a concussion?

Is It a Bump on the Head, or Is It a Concussion?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly four million concussions happen from sports and recreational activities every year in the U.S., but only a fraction of them are diagnosed.


What is a concussion?

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that results when the cells in the brain are rotated or stretched, and that injury causes a chemical imbalance. You can call it a concussion or a traumatic brain injury. Either way, no two head injuries are alike.

What causes a concussion?

Common causes of traumatic brain injury include falls, playground accidents, explosions, and sports. It’s important to note that you can get a concussion even when you don’t hit your head. For instance, if you take a direct hit to the body in a football game, you may not hit your head, but that force is transmitted through your body to your neck and then to your brain, which causes rotation and bumps your brain inside your skull. That force can give you a concussion without a blow to the head.

How can you tell if it’s a concussion?

During a car accident, 34-year-old Amelia Wilcox injured her wrist after another driver t-boned her car at 40 miles an hour. What she didn’t know was that she had also suffered a severe concussion in the wreck.

After the accident, Amelia had a difficult time talking or even forming sentences. Even making dinner for her family seemed impossible. She didn’t hit her head in the accident and all of her head scans came back normal.

When Amelia ended up at the hospital, her diagnosis became clear. She had a severe concussion. With continued individualized care, Amelia is slowly getting back on track.

How long does a concussion last?

Symptoms of a concussion can last for days, weeks, and in Amelia's case, months or years. Signs and symptoms may not be noticeable right away, but if your headaches, dizziness, confusion, and nausea persists, you should see a doctor.