- Is it necessary to image everyone with a head injury and symptoms?
- What symptoms constitute a concussion?
- What does ED treatment of concussion include?
- What is normal expected recovery for concussion?
- Is strict rest still recommended post concussion?
- Should patients be cleared to return to school or sports from the emergency department?
- What recommendations should be given to patients regarding activity?
- What recommendations should be given to patients regarding return to school?
- How is patient recovery assessed after emergency department discharge?
- When should patients be referred to specialty concussion clinics?
1. Is it necessary to image everyone with a head injury and symptoms? No
- The CDC recommends utilizing a decision rule to help guide the need for imaging. (CT or MRI).
- Consider using the PECARN criteria for pediatric head injury.
- Consider using the Canadian CT head rule for patients > 16 years old.
- Consider the need for cervical spine imaging.
2. What symptoms constitute a concussion?
- The CDC prefers the term mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), utilizing the published definition by the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre Task Force on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. It defines mTBI as “an acute brain injury resulting from mechanical energy to the head from external physical forces” with a GCS score of 13-15 (Adult, Peds) at least 30 minutes post injury, along with at least 1 of the following additional clinical criteria:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Loss of consciousness (LOC) lasting ≤ 30 minutes
- Post traumatic amnesia lasting < 24 hours
- Other transient neurological abnormalities (eg, focal signs or seizure).
- The CDC Acute Concussion Evaluation Form also includes the following:
3. What does ED treatment of concussion include? Primarily symptom management.
- Non-narcotic pain meds for headache
- Allow sleep, even in the ED
- Severe symptoms may require observation to confirm that altered mental status is improving.
4. What is normal expected recovery for concussion?
- In children and adolescents, symptoms are considered persistent after 4 weeks.
- In adults, symptoms are considered persistent after 10-14 days.
- The CDC notes that symptoms resolve within 3 months of injury for most children with mTBI (70%-80%)
- Risk factors for prolonged recovery include:
- Previous concussions
- Severe symptoms in the first few days after the injury
- History of pre-existing mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, learning disability, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- History of migraine headaches
- Significant family or social stressors
- Post-concussive vestibular and oculomotor deficits are very common in concussion, present in up to 60% of patients with sport related concussion (SRC).6 These patients are more likely to experience prolonged recovery.
5. Is strict rest still recommended post concussion?
- The CDC and the Concussion in Sport Group (CISG) recommend strict rest for 24-48 hours only.
- Several studies have found no benefit in the prescription of strict rest when compared to the resumption of moderate cognitive or physical activity.
- Patients who resumed moderate levels of cognitive or physical activity recovered better than those with strict rest or resumption of high levels of activity.
- Sleep hygiene is important. Napping is therapeutic for the first few days, however it can result in sleep cycle disturbances if allowed to continue longer.
6. Should patients be cleared to return to school or sports from the emergency department? No.
- Patients should only be cleared from the concussion if:
- All medications used to treat concussive symptoms are no longer being taken
- All concussive symptoms have resolved
- The physical examination is normal, including vestibular and oculomotor function
- There is evidence of neurocognitive recovery, including the ability to fully function in school.
- Clearance requires appropriate documentation of successful completion of the physical return-to-sport stages published in the CISG guidelines. Due to the amount of data needed to confirm that the patient is fully recovered, it is recommended that emergency clinicians not perform concussion clearance, but instead provide referral to a primary care clinician or a specialty clinic for clearance of the concussion.
- In the United States, all 50 states have enacted concussion-focused legislation aimed at protecting youth athletes. The specific requirements vary from state to state, but the laws typically include 3 components:
- Education for coaches and other stakeholders
- Required removal from play with suspected concussion
- Formal clearance from the concussion before return to sport.
7. What recommendations should be given to patients regarding activity?
- Patients should be counseled on the risks of re-injury and should not return to sport or high-risk physical activities, such as bike riding, until cleared from the concussion during a follow-up medical visit.
- Patients may return to sport participation when all of the following criteria are met:
- The patient is free of symptoms of concussion and is not taking medications used to treat concussive symptoms (to ensure that symptoms are not masked),
- There are no symptoms on exertion
- The patient demonstrates normal or baseline cognitive performance.
- In patients with prolonged recovery (> 10-15 days in an adult; > 4 weeks in a child), a symptom-limited exercise prescription may be beneficial.
- A graduated return to sports is described in the CISG guidelines, page 3, here.
- The CDC has developed concussion discharge instruction available here.
8. What recommendations should be given to patients regarding return to school?
- Return to school is appropriate once severe symptoms have improved.
- This typically occurs within 48 to 72 hours after the injury.
- A graduated return to school is described in the CISG guidelines, page 4, here.
- The CDC has developed concussion discharge instruction available here.
9. How is patient recovery assessed after emergency department discharge?
- Consider using one of these free tools to gauge extent of symptoms and monitor progress.
- Age >13, Sport Concussion Assessment Tool – 5th Edition (SCAT5)
- Age 5-12, Child SCAT5 ages 5-12
10. When should patients be referred to specialty concussion clinics?
Early referral to a specialized concussion clinic should be considered for patients with dizziness or visual complaints. These patients will benefit from vestibular and/or physical therapy on the cervical spine. These patients may also be considered for direct referral for vestibular rehabilitation therapy, which is a specialized and effective form of physical therapy provided by trained vestibular therapists.
Concussion in the Emergency Department: A Review of Current Guidelines – Trauma EXTRA Supplement (Trauma CME) Date Release: Sep 2019 This EXTRA Trauma CME supplement (free to Emergency Medicine Practice subscribers) provides evidence-based recommendations for concussion management in the ED and reviews consensus-based guidelines for the evaluation and management of sport-related concussion and mTBI.
Optimizing Imaging in the Pediatric Trauma Patient, Part 1: Head and Neck Trauma – Trauma EXTRA Supplement (Trauma CME) Date Release: Aug 2021 This Pediatric Trauma EXTRA CME supplement (free to Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice subscribers) reviews imaging recommendations and interpretations in pediatric head and neck injuries.
Emergency Department Assessment and Management of Pediatric Acute Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion (Trauma CME) Date Release: Jun 2021 This issue reviews the most recent literature on mTBI and concussion and provides recommendations for the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of mTBI and concussion in the acute setting. Clinical decision rules and their utility in clinical practice will also be discussed.
- Kirelik S. Concussion in the Emergency Department: A Review of Current Guidelines. Emerg Med Pract. Sept. 15, 2019. EBMedicine
- Langlois JA, Rutland-Brown W, Wald MM. The epidemiology and impact of traumatic brain injury: a brief overview. J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2006;21(5):375-378. PubMed
- Bryan MA, Rowhani-Rahbar A, Comstock RD, et al. Sports- and recreation-related concussions in US youth. Pediatrics. 2016;138(1):e20154635. PubMed
- McCrory P, Meeuwisse W, Dvorak J, et al. Consensus statement on concussion in sport-the 5(th) international conference on concussion in sport held in Berlin, October 2016. Br J Sports Med. 2017;51(11):838- 847. (CISG Consensus statement) Full Text PubMed
- Carroll LJ, Cassidy JD, Holm L, et al. Methodological issues and research recommendations for mild traumatic brain injury: the WHO Collaborating Centre Task Force on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. J Rehabil Med. 2004;(43 Suppl):113-125. PubMed
- Makdissi M, Schneider KJ, Feddermann-Demont N, et al. Approach to investigation and treatment of persistent symptoms following sport-related concussion: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med.2017;51(12):958-968. PubMed
Last Updated on January 24, 2023