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A concussion is a mild brain injury resulting from a jarring of the brain following a head injury. Head injuries can result from: a direct blow to the head, a hit to the upper body, or a rapid accelerating/decelerating force on the body. These forces cause the brain to move inside the skull. Concussion symptoms can occur even without a loss of consciousness (fainting/black out) and can last minutes or hours to days and months.
Concussions are a brain injury that will not be seen on xrays, CT scans or MRIs. They can affect the way a child may think, behave and remember things.
The signs (seen by others) and the symptoms (felt by the person) of a concussion can be hard to notice. Symptoms may start hours or rarely, days later. A concussion can cause one or more of the following:
Early symptoms of concussion:
Late symptoms of concussion:
Very young children may show the following signs:
A concussion is a serious event but most children can recover fully if their brain is given time to rest and recuperate. Returning to regular activities like school and sport is a step-by-step process that requires patience and caution.
A ‘Return to School’ and ‘Return to Sport’ system is recommended for children with concussions.
The length of time a child will experience concussion symptoms can be quite variable. Most children will recover within one to two weeks, especially if they follow brain rest and activity rest guidelines that are recommended.
Some children will experience symptoms such as chronic headaches, poor concentration and memory issues for more than two weeks. If the concussion symptoms last longer than a month, your child should be seen by their family doctor and consider a referral to a specialist in concussion management.
The best way to prevent concussions is to prevent high speed/high impact injuries to the head and neck. While helmets are great at avoiding damage to the skull, they do not prevent concussions. Children who have had multiple concussions are at higher risk for long term issues with headaches and learning problems.
Parachute Canada: An excellent guideline for parents and caregivers. Parachute Canada is a national organization dedicated to injury prevention and has multiple tools for families that can be found here.
Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care.
Seek immediate medical attention if:
Know your options
It can be scary when your child is sick. But in most cases, you don’t need to go to the emergency department. If you’re unsure, visit ahs.ca/options to learn about the options so you can get the care you need.
The Alberta Health Services HEAL (Health Education and Learning) program was created by a team of doctors, nurses and other clinical staff who work at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital, to support families and patients with up-to-date and useful information about common childhood health concerns. Learn more at ahs.ca/heal.
To see this information online and learn more, visit: ahs.ca/heal/page12430.aspx
Head injury in children: HEAL
For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Pediatric Emergency Medicine, 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.