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Concussion – Mild traumatic brain injury: Care instructions

Concussion – Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Care instructions

What is a concussion/mild traumatic brain injury?

A concussion, also called a mild traumatic brain injury, is a head injury caused by the brain shaken around inside the skull after a direct blow to the head, or a sudden jerking of the head or neck when the body is hit. This can cause injury to the brain’s nerve fibers and interrupts normal brain activities. In most cases, this injury cannot be seen on tests such as a CT scan or MRI. You don't have to pass out (lose consciousness) to have a concussion. Some people will have symptoms of a concussion, such as passing out or forgetting what happened right before the injury, but others won't.

Common causes of a concussion/mild brain injury are falls, sports, physical assaults, and motor vehicle collisions.

When should I go to the hospital?

Sometimes an injury to your brain can be more serious. Signs of a more serious injury such as bleeding and /or swelling in the brain can be seen in the first 24 to 48 hours.

Call 911 or go to the hospital right away for any of these possible life threatening issues:

  • won’t wake up or is very hard to wake up
  • become more confused, restless, or agitated
  • become less alert
  • you have the worst headache you’ve ever had and a pain medicine (like Tylenol) isn’t helping
  • blood or fluid is coming from the nose or ears or bruising around the eyes or ears
  • loss of vision, blurry vision, or double vision
  • slurred speech or trouble speaking
  • sudden weakness on one side of the body
  • vomit 3 or more times
  • seizure activity (such as abnormal movements, loss of consciousness, loss of bowel or bladder control)

The First 48 Hours

Have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours after the concussion.

Rest and Sleep

  • Rest for the first 24 hours; it's one of the best things to help your brain recover. It’s okay to sleep if you want.
  • You usually don’t have to be woken up every few hours. If your doctor has asked that you are, you should awaken easily and not show any of the warning signs listed above. If you do, call 911 or go to the hospital right away.
  • Do some light physical activity (housework) or light exercise (walking, stationary bike, swimming) as soon as you can tolerate the movements. Strenuous exercise (like jogging) can make your concussion symptoms worse or last longer.


  • Start with clear fluids (such as apple juice or ginger ale) and slowly return to a normal diet.
  • Don’t forget to eat healthy meals (including breakfast) and snacks throughout the day as your brain will need the energy for recovery.

Managing Pain

  • Take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain. Talk to your doctor about using products with ASA or NSAIDs in them (such as Aspirin) or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), as they can increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area of your head that hurts for 10-20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.


  • Your ability to concentrate and react quickly might be affected by the concussion. Ask your healthcare professional when you can safely drive a car, or operate heavy equipment.
  • Do not drive if you’re concerned about vision problems, slowed thinking, slowed reaction time, reduced attention or poor judgment.


  • Don’t drink alcohol or use recreational drugs as they may make you feel worse and/or hide the warning signs.
  • Ask your healthcare professional about the use of any other prescribed drugs while you’re recovering.

Sports and Leisure

  • Stay away from activities that could cause another head injury (like sports), until the doctor says it’s okay. A second blow to the head can cause more damage to the brain.

Rest Your Brain

  • Limit reading, television, video games, etc. the first 48 hours. Your brain needs to rest so that it can recover. You may find that it helps to take time off school or work.
  • Limit exposure to bright lights, loud noises, and crowds for the first 48 hours, as these can make your symptoms worse.

The First 4 Weeks

The symptoms below are common after a mild brain injury. They usually get better on their own within a few weeks:

  • feeling tired or “slow”
  • problems falling or staying asleep
  • feeling confused, poor concentration, or slow to answer questions
  • feeling dizzy, poor balance, or poor coordination
  • being sensitive to light
  • being sensitive to sounds
  • ringing in the ears
  • headache, sometimes with nausea and/or vomiting
  • being irritable, having mood swings, or feeling somewhat sad or “down”

See a doctor if your symptoms are affecting your everyday activities. Remember that letting yourself get too tired can make your symptoms worse. Listen to your body: if doing a certain activity increases your symptoms, take a break from that activity. Build up the amount of time you do a particular activity and stay under the threshold for symptoms.

Rest and Sleep

  • Get enough sleep so that you feel well rested. It can be helpful to take naps during the day so that you feel well rested, however it is important to make sure that you can still sleep at night.


  • Many people notice symptoms that affect their ability to manage emotions. You may be more irritable or experience mood swings that affect your relationships with family and friends.
  • See your doctor if you or your family are worried.


  • Don’t drive if you are concerned about your ability to drive safely.
  • Follow-up with your family doctor if you aren’t sure that you're medically ready to drive again.

Drinking and Drugs

  • Don’t drink alcohol or take sedatives (medicine that relaxes you) until your doctor has said it’s safe to do so.
  • Don’t use recreational drugs.

Work and Study

  • Most people go back to their work or studies within a few days and are back full time in a few weeks, depending on the type of work you do. Expect to feel tired as you become more active and adjust your rest periods as needed.
  • Some people find it hard to concentrate well so return to your normal activities slowly. Go back to work or school for half days at first, and increase as tolerated.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, tell work or school about your concussion. You may have to adjust your activities, depending on your job or school demands.

Sports and Leisure

  • If you play sports, tell the coach/instructor/teammates about your concussion. A doctor should be involved in the decision for your return to play.
  • To learn more about returning to play, go to Parachute Canada.


  • Use medicine as prescribed. See your doctor if you are still taking over-the-counter pain medicine for a headache longer than 2 weeks after the injury. You may need a different treatment.

What to Do While Your Brain is Healing

  • Most people with mild brain injuries (concussion) have a good recovery. Proper management of concussion symptoms can help to speed recovery.
  • Pacing and planning activity is the best way to recover from a concussion. You need a combination of rest and gradual return to daily activities. Do not try to do too much a once.
  • The rate of recovery varies from person to person. Most people will feel better within a couple of weeks but it is not uncommon to have symptoms that last a few months.
  • Talk to your doctor if your symptoms haven’t improved after a few weeks

If your symptoms get worse at any time or you have new symptoms from the above list, call your doctor or call Health Link at 811.

To see this information online and learn more, visit


Related to Concussion

For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: March 27, 2023

Author: Calgary Brain Injury Program, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.