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Concussion Myths vs. Facts: The Right Diet, Sleep, Best Recovery Practices

ER doctor examines dazed, injured soccer player for a possible concussion
Understanding the facts about common concussion myths will help you get better quickly.

There are a lot of concussion myths floating around about what happens before, during and after a concussion. These myths and misunderstandings can cause a lot of confusion and keep people from recovering as quickly as they should. Not knowing the symptoms of a serious brain injury can keep people from getting the medical care they need to avoid major damage. The scary part about a head injury is the possibility that you’ve got a more severe brain injury, such as bleeding or a skull fracture.

What Exactly is a Concussion?

A concussion is a disruption in brain activity. This mild-trauma injury is never seen in imaging, Kristen Heinan, MD, a pediatric neurologist explains. With a normal concussion, after two to three days of rest you should be easing back into your normal routine. Heinan explains that you might not notice your concussion right away. One way to know for sure is if you feel terrible the next day.

Get Your Concussion Facts Straight to Improve Recovery Time

Hit Your Head? When to Go to the ER

Seek medical attention if you or someone you know is experiencing:

  • Difficulty talking
  • Worsening headache
  • Vomiting, especially while resting
  • Dizziness with abnormal eye movements

Quiz yourself: Can you guess which of these statements are concussion myths or facts?

You don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion.

Fact. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains a concussion can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. The blow to the head causes strain on the brain cells which causes a chemical reaction. This reaction impairs nerve cell function which contributes to the loss of consciousness.

Concussions happen when you hit your head and lose consciousness.

Myth. Erica Umback, an occupational therapist at UVA, explains that you don’t need to hit your head to get a concussion. A concussion is a result of an impact that affects your brain. Heinan explains that most concussions do not happen with loss of consciousness as part of the diagnosis.

Someone with a concussion will fall into a coma if they sleep for long periods.

Myth. Heinan explains that continuously waking up a person with a concussion doesn’t allow the brain to fully rest. Rest is the best treatment for a concussion. The brain needs to shut down and recover from the injury. You can check on someone with a concussion to make sure the symptoms have not gotten worse. However, you don’t need to wake them up.

A helmet can prevent a concussion.

Myth. It’s true that helmets are the best protection and prevent more serious injuries. You should wear a helmet during activities that have a potential for a fall or collision. But helmets don’t always prevent concussions, they only lessen the force of impact. Concussions happen due to motion, which can happen with a helmet on or off. Unless we become the “bubble boy” like John Travolta, sitting in a contained room constantly, there’s no perfect way to prevent a concussion.

Over-the-counter pain medicine is okay for a concussion.

Fact. It’s safe to use Tylenol in the first 24 hours, as long as symptoms don’t get worse. Ibuprofen and Aleve should not be taken the first day, on the side of caution, as they may increase the risk of bleeding. If a headache continues after two weeks, Heinan encourages you to return to your doctor to look for other causes.

No television, video games or cellphones while recovering from a concussion.

Myth. This depends on the person, but while resting, you can watch television, play video games and talk on your phone. Heinan suggests stopping if you get a headache from those activities. She also finds that most patients are just listening, not watching. Cellphones are more difficult to use due to the lighting and small screens. But if it doesn’t hurt your eyes or head, then you’re fine. Heinan finds it’s beneficial for patients to stay connected with friends, school and work while they are recovering to help with stress.

You should follow dietary restrictions, such as no caffeine, during a concussion.

Myth. You should continue eating a normal diet, as your body needs the energy to heal. It’s also important to stay hydrated. Drinking coffee isn’t an issue as long as you can still sleep while you continue to rest. Heinan also confirms that you should continue your routine medications while recovering from a concussion.

Everyone should get back to work after two days of recovery.

Getting Back to Your Normal Routine

Still struggling after a concussion? We can provide the best care for recovery at the Acute Concussion Evaluation Clinic.

Myth. Everyone is different. Take your time getting back into a normal routine and listen to your body. You should follow up with your primary care provider or outpatient rehabilitation therapist if your symptoms persist.

If you’re in the hospital, you’ll most likely get a visit from an occupational therapist. They’ll evaluate your physical and mental changes, then decide whether you need help while recovering. OT can also help you with unique functional tasks, such as dressing, shaving, bathing, etc. Umback explains that if her patient is a teacher, she might have her practice writing on a whiteboard. The goal is to “make it more real to them” and replicate what they do for a living while recovering.

Concussion Myths

Brain injuries can be scary. We’re often unsure what is best. Tell us in the comments below: Which myth were you surprised to see debunked?

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