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Is a Concussion Possible Without a Direct Hit?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

A concussion is considered a mild traumatic brain injury. One of the most common reasons both children and adults sustain concussions is because of contact sports, although they frequently occur after a car accident as well.

For the majority of people, a headache is the most frequently experienced symptom, and most of the symptoms start to get better on their own within 14 to 21 days.

A lot of people wonder if it’s possible to get a concussion without hitting your head or even realizing you’ve specifically hurt your head at all. The answer is yes.

The following are things to know about concussions in general and also getting one without a direct blow to the head.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury. It can occur when your head is directly impacted, but it can also happen if you have any type of injury that shakes your head back and forth quickly.

When you sustain a concussion, you may be in an altered mental state, and some people lose consciousness.

There’s a distinction to be made between a contusion and a concussion also. A contusion is a bruise, and you can get one on your head, but that doesn’t inherently mean you have a concussion.

When you get a concussion, it can cause chemical changes to occur in your brain. Those changes can then lead to a loss of brain function that is usually temporary.

Most people don’t have permanent brain damage from one concussion, but you can if you have multiple concussions.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion can include:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Feeling foggy
  • Being unsteady on your feet

If you’re playing a sport and you have signs or symptoms of a concussion, you should be evaluated by a medical professional.

A headache may be one of your first and perhaps only symptoms, and if you experience this, again, talk to a doctor or medical professional.

If you’re a coach and one of your players might have a concussion, you should watch them for worsening symptoms and potentially take them to the emergency room to be evaluated.

In some cases, a concussion can also mean that an injury to the spine has occurred. If there’s even a possibility of a spine or neck injury, the person should not be moved, and you should call an ambulance.

Diagnosing a Concussion

If someone with a suspected concussion gets medical care, the doctor will probably ask a series of questions about how the injury occurred, and they may do a general exam.

If the injury or the situation that caused it seems serious, a doctor might do an MRI or CT scan of the brain. There’s also something called an electroencephalogram, which is used to monitor brain waves.

You may also notice a doctor using an eye test, which is frequently used by athletic trainers too.

How Do Concussions Happen?

Concussions can happen anytime someone’s brain moves around inside their skull, and there is an impact on it. Your brain is tucked inside a layer of material meant to be protective. If you experience impact, then your head can move back and forth rapidly.

That, in turn, causes your brain to hit the inside of your skull, and that’s a concussion.

Without ever coming in contact with an actual object, yes, it is possible to get a concussion.

For example, as was touched on, whiplash is a common reason for concussions.

Other events that can lead to concussions aside from sports and whiplash include pedestrian accidents and slip and fall accidents.

Commonly people think since their head didn’t actually hit anything, it’s not possible for them to have a concussion. That’s not the reality.

Concussion Complications

Understanding that concussions can happen without hitting your head is important to ensure that you seek the proper and necessary medical care.

Even a seemingly mild concussion can have complications.

For example, you might develop longer-term brain injuries if you have more than one concussion. There’s something called post-concussion syndrome which means you could experience the symptoms of a concussion for months rather than days.

Concussion Myths

The following are responses to some of the most common myths that float around about concussions.

  • First, as was mentioned, you do not have to hit your head to have a concussion. Anything causing a sudden change in direction can cause you to have a concussion.
  • You don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. Some people do, and others don’t.
  • A concussion is more than a bruised brain. It actually impacts the function of the brain.
  • Concussion symptoms don’t always appear right away. For some people, it could be hours or days before they notice symptoms, which is one of the reasons it’s important to get medical help right away, even if you don’t think you have a concussion.
  • You can get a concussion if you’re hit on the chin or jaw. Your chin or jaw may absorb some of the force, but it can still lead to a concussion.

Certain groups of people are at higher risk of a concussion than others. For example, children who are younger than four and older adults are more at risk because they’re at a greater risk of falls.

Adolescents are also at high risk because they more often bike and play sports, and military personnel can be since they’re exposed to explosives.

If you’re involved in a car accident, or you’ve had a concussion in the past, you are also more likely to experience another one.

The overall takeaway from this is that yes, you can absolutely get a concussion even if you don’t directly hit your head. A concussion occurs not because of the blow itself but because of the impact of your brain on your skull.

If you think you could have a concussion, it’s a very good idea to seek medical attention right away.