Concussion

A man smiling while riding his bicycle down the street on a sunny day.

The concussion experts at OHSU treat most stages of injury for children and adults. We bring specialists together as a team for your care. 

You’ll find:

  • A variety of specialists, including neurologists, psychologists and rehabilitation therapists.
  • Sports medicine experts to treat every aspect of athletic-related concussions, including evaluating when your child can return to sports and school.
  • The most sophisticated imaging tests.
  • Doctors with the expertise to give you a precise diagnosis.

What to do after a possible concussion

  • Stop physical activity.
  • Do one of the following right away:
    • Call your doctor.
    • Call the OHSU Concussion Clinic at 503-494-1950.
    • Go to a hospital.

Know the signs

Understanding concussion

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a mild but still serious traumatic brain injury. Normally, liquid surrounding the brain cushions it against jostling and bumps. In a concussion, the brain is shaken or jolted with enough force to cause it to twist or bounce inside the skull.

Short- and long-term effects can include:

  • Changes in memory and reasoning
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Changes in the ability to communicate and understand
  • Emotional changes such as depression, anxiety, aggression and personality changes
  • Trouble sleeping

Concussion causes

Anything that shakes or jolts the brain can cause a concussion. Causes can include:

  • Car and bike accidents
  • Falls, especially for young children and older adults
  • Contact sports such as football, soccer, lacrosse, hockey or boxing
  • Physical activities without proper safety gear or supervision
  • Physical abuse

Second concussions

Having one concussion raises the risk of a second one because your brain is more vulnerable while healing. Your balance and judgment also may be impaired, making a second injury more likely.

Signs and symptoms of concussion

Signs and symptoms of a concussion may develop right away, or after hours or days. They go away within 10 days for about 80% of people, according to the National Institutes of Health, but last longer for others. They can include:

  • Unable to remember events before, during or after the injury
  • Dizziness
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea or vomiting (early on)
  • Headache
  • Ringing in ears
  • Trouble speaking or finding the right words
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Problems with sleep

Diagnosing a concussion

Concussions can be difficult to identify because symptoms may develop over hours or days. At OHSU, you’ll find specialists with the expertise to give you a clear diagnosis.

Tests may include:

  • A neurological exam to test your vision, balance, hearing, strength and reflexes.
  • A cognitive (thinking) test to evaluate your memory and ability to concentrate.
  • Rarely, spending a night in a hospital to make sure your symptoms aren’t severe.

Concussion treatments

At OHSU, your doctor or care team will recommend a treatment plan for your specific needs. Specialists may include:

  • Sports medicine doctors
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Athletic trainers who specialize in concussion
  • Physical, occupational and speech-language therapists
  • Neurologists who specialize in headache management
  • Pain medicine doctors to help with headaches and spine pain
  • Psychologists to help you cope with concussion symptoms

Care can include:

Rest: Both mental and physical rest are important in the first few days after you are diagnosed with a concussion. Avoid sports or vigorous movement, which could make your symptoms worse. Your doctor will help you ease back to regular activity.

Pain relief: You may have headaches in the days and even weeks after a concussion. Your doctor may recommend pain treatments or medication.

Rehabilitation: You might benefit from physical, occupational or speech therapy to help you improve:

  • Balance and movement
  • Vision and perception
  • Thinking and processing

Neuropsychological care: A neuropsychologist will evaluate your thinking, mood and behavior. The doctor can help you regain function, and improve sleep and quality of life. 

Athletic training: A certified athletic trainer will gather records to go over your medical history. The trainer also:

  • Does intake and follow-up assessments.
  • Teaches you exercises, and provides other education and handouts.
  • Helps you make progress toward returning to play or work.
  • Serves as your concussion care manager.

Returning to school and sports

Providers from many specialties work together to tailor a plan for each patient.

  • Students: We help identify accommodations the student needs to return to school, and we ease the transition. We follow Oregon School Activities Association guidelines.
  • Athletes: We determine when it’s safe to return play based on OSAA guidelines. Our specialists can interpret results of testing (the ImPACT Concussion Test) to offer guidance.

For patients

  • For a sports-related head injury, please call the OHSU Concussion Clinic at 503-494-1950 to make an appointment.
  • For an emergency, please call 911 or go to an emergency room.
  • For all other head injuries, please ask your primary care provider for a referral.

Locations

Services are available in several locations, depending on your needs. They include:

Parking is free for patients and their visitors.

Refer a patient

Transfer a patient

Tips for families

A professional photo of Dr. Jim Chesnutt from OHSU's Brain Institute.

Dr. Jim Chesnutt, an OHSU expert on concussions, offers information to help you weigh the pros and cons of contact sports.