Got a Concussion in a Car Accident? That’s Not a “Minor Injury”

Researchers have learned a lot about concussions over the past couple of decades. While concussions are categorized as mild traumatic brain injuries, they are not minor or normal. If undetected or left untreated, concussions can cause significant and permanent damage.

You may have noticed concussions are often discussed in the context of pro sports, and increasingly, school and youth sports, too. In fact, a law to improve concussion safety in youth called Rowan’s Law was enacted in Ontario in 2018.

Despite their association with sports, concussions happen in many circumstances, including car or bike accidents and falls of all types. Alarmingly, researchers believe that 50% of concussions go unreported.

What exactly is a concussion?

According to injury prevention organization Parachute, “A concussion is a brain injury that can’t be seen on routine X-rays, CT scans or MRIs. It affects the way a person may think and remember things, and can cause a variety of symptoms. Any blow to the head, face or neck, or a blow to the body that jars your head, could cause a concussion”. Contrary to popular belief, you can have a concussion even if you weren’t knocked unconscious.

Symptoms of concussion can be physical, cognitive (thinking & remembering), emotional and sleep-related. Because concussions have so many different symptoms, it’s important to be assessed by a trained healthcare professional, who can create a treatment plan. Generally, treatment involves rest and a gradual, supervised return to activity. Usually, concussion symptoms last one to four weeks, but can last longer, especially if you’ve had a concussion before.

What is post-concussion syndrome?

Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is just what it sounds like–when concussion symptoms persist past the point they would generally resolve with a proper recovery plan. Concussion Legacy Foundation notes that “in cases where symptoms last longer than one or two months, doctors may diagnose Post-Concussion Syndrome.” PCS can be challenging and isolating to live with, particularly because it’s an “invisible injury” that is not obvious to the outside world.

Why are concussions and post-concussion syndrome sometimes dismissed as “minor”–even by healthcare professionals?

First of all, concussions can be easily missed if whoever is assessing the injured party is not trained in identifying concussion symptoms. In Ontario, only doctors and nurse practitioners can medically assess patients with a head injury.

Concussion symptoms can vary greatly between individuals and ages and genders. If there is a delay between your injury and the onset of your symptoms, you may not connect them.

Another challenge is that concussions don’t show up on imaging scans such as x-rays, CT scans or MRIs (though imaging may reveal other injuries such as fractures or bleeding). The diagnosis is made by observing changes in a person’s thinking, feeling and behaviour.

If you or a loved one received a concussion in a motor vehicle accident, don’t let your insurance company claim it’s a minor injury. It is well-established that brain injuries like concussions and post-concussion syndrome do not fall within the Minor Injury Guidelines.