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“Bell Ringer” Producer’s Blog — What Is a Concussion?

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  • Justin Blake Crum
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A topic like concussions is a hard one to understand; it’s multifaceted because the brain is an extremely complex organ. I like to think of the brain as the body’s equivalent of the deep ocean – there’s just so much left to explore, and research on the brain is so new.

Needless to say, when I began work on “Bell Ringer: The Invisible Brain Injury,” I was confronted with my fair share of confusion. I spent a good amount of time calling experts and getting answers to my questions.

Now, two years later, many of the people I come across have the same questions I once had. While I’m no authority on the subject, I would like to share some of the answers – some basic, some more involved – that I received while researching concussions. 

Do you have to be knocked out to have a concussion? 

A concussion can happen even when loss of consciousness doesn’t occur. Recent statistics show that loss of consciousness occurs in less than 10 percent of concussions. The more common symptoms include headaches, confusion, dizziness, sensitivity to light, balance problems, amnesia and even depression. 

Do helmets with a higher rating prevent concussions? 

Helmets and other protective devices may lower the risk of concussions, but no equipment can fully prevent them. Helmets are designed to stop the skull from fracturing, which they do very well. Because the brain is surrounded by fluid and can move freely within the skull, there is nothing on the outside of the head that can keep it from moving. It’s this sudden movement of the brain that causes a concussion.


Can you sustain a concussion without being hit on the head? 

Yes, concussions can also occur from a violent shaking of the body, like a whiplash effect. Whiplash can occur when a player’s body (but not his or her head) hits the ground, for instance. The brain inside the skull still moves, even though the head was never impacted. 

Why are there so many different symptoms for concussions? 

Every person reacts to concussions differently, because a concussion causes chemical and metabolic changes to your brain. Considering the brain is the control center of the body, symptoms can range from physical problems like nausea to emotional problems like sadness. Not only that, but symptoms can evolve over time, as your brain returns to its normal chemical and metabolic state. Returning to normal could take days, weeks, or months, depending on the person.  

Are brain scans a good way to detect concussions?

Not necessarily, but let me explain. A concussion is a functional injury, not a structural injury. The brain’s shape, for instance, does not look different after a concussion.  Because of this, a CT scan, which shows the shape and structure of the brain itself, will not be able to detect a concussion (although they can detect brain bleeding or swelling). A MRI has the ability to show a functional deficit within the brain, but in most cases you would need to do a baseline MRI prior to the injury in order to know for sure the deficit exists (if a MRI is done before the injury, you could compare how the player’s brain functioned before the injury and after, and spot any differences). Considering MRIs are so costly, this isn’t an ideal way to detect concussions. 

What do you do if you suspect a player has a concussion, but aren’t sure?

Due to the difficulty of diagnosing concussions, recent protocols do not rely on a diagnosis. If the player is suspected to have a concussion, they should be removed from the game. One reason for the precaution is because players who continue to play with concussion symptoms typically take longer to recover. Relatively manageable symptoms could worsen if they continue to play and could result in Post Concussion Syndrome. Not only that, but life threatening injuries such as Second Impact Syndrome typically occur when the player returns to play too soon, before their brain has fully healed. 


Thursday, April 7, 2016
“Bell Ringer: The Invisible Brain Injury,” at 7 p.m. 


Thursday, April 7, 2016
“Arkansans Ask: Concussions,” at 8 p.m.
Share your questions for a chance to hear them answered on air by contacting us at, 800-662-2386 or tweeting with #ARAsk.


“Bell Ringer: The Invisible Brain Injury”