Concussions happen more often than you might expect, with about 25% of Americans reporting that they have suffered one at some point during their lives thus far.
However, even that number might be under-representative, as some reports say that only about half of all concussions are clinically diagnosed. Many of those who do not visit the doctor simply chalk their symptoms up to feeling dazed or “getting their bell rung.”
Although concussions can cause severe symptoms like unconsciousness, confusion, and clumsiness, doctors often label these brain injuries “mild” because they rarely cause death. Additionally, most patients will only experience their symptoms for about two months before they clear up. Still, during that time, they suffer temporary disabilities that interfere with their ability to work, drive, or even walk.
Table of Contents
How Does Your Body Protect Your Brain?
Your brain controls every other part and process of your body. It gathers sensory information from your eyes, skin, nose, ears, and tongue, which informs it about your external environment. Your brain then controls your body in response.
Some of these control signals require conscious thought — if your arm feels wet and sticky from touching fresh paint, you may deliberately move your hand from that newly painted wall — but in other situations, these reactions happen automatically. When you feel the hot sun on your arm, for instance, your brain activates your sweat glands without any conscious thought.
Several structures in your body work to protect your brain. The brain sits inside the cranial cavity of your skull, the thick walls of which protect it from direct impacts. The oval shape of the skull also helps it resist fractures.
The cranial cavity also contains two additional structures. First are the meninges, which consist of three layers of membranes that protect the brain from microorganisms that can cause infections. They also act as “packing material” that surrounds the brain and cushions it from hitting the sides of the skull.
Secondly, to further protect the brain, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) fills the meninges. The CSF has a viscosity that is slightly thicker than water, and it holds the brain in place within the cranial cavity by resisting movement.
How Do Concussion Injuries Happen?
When your head is shaken violently, your brain sloshes around in the CSF within your skull. The protective layers surrounding the brain press on the brain to prevent it from smashing into the cranial walls. But in doing so, the pressure of the CSF and meninges can damage or kill brain cells.
Whenever the body suffers tissue damage, inflammation occurs in the injured area as white blood cells rush to the area. At the same time, swelling restricts blood flow. The combination of these two immune responses traps white cells and healing factors in the area. The body also triggers a fever to kill any microorganisms invading the body through the injury.
Inflammation in your brain causes many of the symptoms associated with concussions. Specifically, swelling and fever can cause your brain cells to misfire or drop signals traveling between the brain and body.
The pressure required to cause a concussion comes from three primary types of trauma:
When you bump your head, your brain shifts, and if it collides with the inner walls of your skull, you could suffer a cranial contusion: bruising of your brain that can result in permanent brain damage, coma, or even death.
Similarly, when your CSF and meninges restrain your brain, it can end up damaged. But the damage is usually much less severe than the injury you would suffer in a cranial contusion.
Some accidents in which head trauma can lead to a concussion include assaults, slips and falls, and pedestrian accidents. In these types of accidents, your head could hit the ground, but your brain will continue toward the point of impact. The meninges and CSF will work to stop the brain’s movement, but the forces they impart will cause a concussion.
Rapid Acceleration or Deceleration
You can also suffer a concussion without hitting your head. When you undergo rapid acceleration, deceleration, or changes in direction, your brain will shift positions, and as it does, the CSF and meninges put pressure on the brain.
Many concussions that result from car accidents happen in such a fashion. As you slam into another vehicle, your seat belt restrains your body, but your head and brain keep moving, meaning you can suffer a concussion from the whipping motion even if you do not hit your head.
Explosions generate a wave of pressurized air that can squeeze your skull and brain if you are caught in the blast, causing widespread but minor cell damage even if nothing strikes your head. Blast-related concussions typically affect combat soldiers, but they can also happen to others who work around explosives, like miners or oil and gas workers.
How Do You Rate Concussions?
The symptoms of a concussion can vary widely depending on the location and severity of the preceding injury. Doctors rate concussions and other brain injuries using scales, such as the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), which determines the severity based on the symptoms you experience. The GCS uses observations of three types of responses to assign a score to your concussion.
First, your eye-opening response measures how quickly you open your eyes after your injury. If you open them instantaneously, you’ve avoided getting knocked out and probably have a mild concussion. If you only open them in response to touch or sound, you probably have a moderate concussion, but if you have lost consciousness, you have a severe concussion.
Your motor response considers your movement. If you move normally in response to commands, you have a mild concussion. Difficulty in either flexing or extending your muscles signifies a moderate concussion. A severe concussion is clear if you cannot move.
Lastly, your verbal response measures your speaking and ability to reason. Coherent responses signify a mild concussion, even if you seem confused. Incoherent responses, like misusing words or misunderstanding questions, indicate a moderate concussion. You have a severe concussion if you cannot form words at all.
What Concussion Injury Symptoms Can a Person Experience?
Common concussion symptoms include the following:
- Memory loss
- Dizziness or nausea
- Slurred speech
- Blurry vision
- Ringing ears
These symptoms often clear up within two months of the injury, but if they last longer, you may have a condition known as post-concussion syndrome.
Can You Get Compensation For a Concussion Injury?
You can pursue compensation for a concussion that resulted from someone else’s negligent or intentional actions. For example, if your concussion happened during an assault, you can pursue a claim against the at-fault party. Similarly, you have a claim for negligence if your concussion occurred when a distracted driver rear-ended your car.
Even a mild concussion can diminish your quality of life and impair your ability to earn a living. Call Zavodnick & Lasky Personal Injury Lawyers at (215) 875-7030 or contact us online to discuss your concussion symptoms and the compensation you can seek for them under Pennsylvania law.