How Concussions Work

By: Chris Jones

Controversy Surrounding Concussions

Concussions are among the least understood medical maladies today, which is why they're hotly debated. One controversy surrounds the differing schools of thought regarding treatment and the assignment of concussion grades. In sports, most arguments center on when an athlete may return to play after experiencing a concussion.

The debate over the nature of concussion damage divides those who believe that the effects of concussions are structural or functional. Those in the first camp believe concussions result from physical alteration of the neurons in the brain. Their counterparts think that since concussion symptoms are typically short-lived and recovery is usually spontaneous and total, that the damage isn't consistent with structural damage to the brain, and therefore it must be functional [source: Peak Performance]. Both sides have valid points, and ongoing research continues to help the scientific community work toward drawing a firm conclusion.


Conflicts of interest are especially prevalent in cases of sports-related concussion. For a professional athlete, such an injury can affect one's livelihood, and that can lead to dangerous conflicts.

Underreporting of concussion is a major issue, and it's believed that a large number of concussions are never reported. Athletes may also downplay their symptoms to the best of their abilities in order to get the doctor's go-ahead for them to return to play. Because of such conflicts, companies like imPACT have developed complex tests and concussion management guidelines that are designed to detect and properly address every instance of concussion with precision and care [source: imPACT].

While most concussions resolve themselves, if they become complicated by post-concussion syndrome or second-impact syndrome, concussions can result in lifelong disabilities. Therefore, it is important to seriously evaluate each case and perhaps even consult several different tests and guidelines to ensure that a person isn't taking on undue risk or putting him- or herself in danger by resuming physical activity too quickly. Of course, while concussions can't always be avoided, the best practice is to prevent them from happening in the first place.