What Happens to Your Brain With Concussion and PCS



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. Clifford Robbins explains the science behind concussions.

This TED talk has excellent dynamic graphics showing new understanding of what happens in the brain with a concussion.

What is a concussion? Probably not what you think it is. In this talk from the cutting edge of research, bioengineer (and former football player) David Camarillo shows what really happens during a concussion -- and why standard sports helmets don't prevent it. Here's what the future of concussion prevention looks like.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of a TBI may range from “mild,” i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to “severe,” i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury."

From "Diary of a Concussion" by science writer Elizabeth Lopatto, "You don’t even need to be hit on the head to have one. Your brain is a gelatinous mass, floating in a pool of cerebrospinal fluid inside your skull. A concussion occurs when the brain hits the skull, even if the person’s head doesn’t collide with an object. Whiplash alone can generate a concussion. After all, it doesn’t take much to deform Jell-O. The force of the impact with the skull can cause the brain to twist or even rebound against the other side of the skull.

The result is chaos, says John Leddy, a concussion expert at the University of Buffalo. Brain cells stretch and twist, blood vessels become leaky, and the chemicals that the brain uses to communicate dump at random into the spaces between brain cells. The electrical activity of the brain is dampened. There’s a period of diminished activity from brain cells, as well as reduced blood flow in the brain, according to research on the concussion cascade."


From Neuro Assessment & Development Center 

The brain is made up of billions of specialized cells called neurons.  Each Brain cell has a cell body which processes information.  Each also has a wire-like structure (axon) that branches at the end to connect to other cells.  Once a cell is activated, an electrical signal travels down the axon to send a message to other cells it connects to.  The connection point between the wire and the next cell is called a synapse.  The brain works using electricity and chemicals.  When an electric signal reaches the end of the axon it does not actually touch the next cell.  It transmits its message by secreting chemicals (neurotransmitters) into the synapse.  The type and quantity of neurochemicals in the synapse tell the next cell what to do.

A concussion is a disturbance in brain functioning that occurs following either a blow to the head or as a result of the violent shaking of the head. This is most often related to a motor vehicle accident, fall, or sports injury. 

A Concussion occurs as a result of the rapid acceleration and deceleration to the brain during a blow to the head. There are two processes that can occur in the brain to cause concussive symptoms:

1.     Shearing or Tearing of Axons which affects the electric signal.
2.     Release of Neurochemicals.  The rapid change causes a flooding of neurochemicals, and the brain cannot handle the overwhelming amount of information.

As a result of either of these processes, Initial symptoms can include confusion, disorientation, attention and memory disturbance, loss of consciousness.


From Brain Injury Association of America

Concussion (TBI)

  • A concussion can be caused by direct blows to the head, gunshot wounds, violent shaking of the head, or force from a whiplash type injury.

  • Both closed and open head injuries can produce a concussion. A concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury.

  • A concussion is caused when the brain receives trauma from an impact or a sudden momentum or movement change. The blood vessels in the brain may stretch and cranial nerves may be damaged.

  • A person may or may not experience a brief loss of consciousness (not exceeding 20 minutes). A person may remain conscious but feel “dazed” or “punch drunk”.

  • A concussion may or may not show up on a diagnostic imaging test, such as a CAT Scan.

  • Skull fracture, brain bleeding, or swelling may or may not be present. Therefore, a concussion is sometimes defined by exclusion and is considered a complex neurobehavioral syndrome.

  • A concussion can cause diffuse axonal type injury resulting in permanent or temporary damage.

  • It may take a few months to a few years for a concussion to heal.