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Concussion Testing and Treatment

The concussion experts at UC San Diego Health believe that every athlete with a suspected concussion deserves a comprehensive evaluation and customized plan of care. We provide baseline testing as well as expert concussion diagnostics and treatment following head injury to ensure that you can return to sport safely.

Why Seek Comprehensive Concussion Care?

When it comes to concussions, it’s better to play it safe and have your injury assessed by an experienced professional. Diagnosing a head injury on your own can be dangerous, especially since symptoms may not appear until later. Furthermore, what may appear to be a concussion may actually be a more serious head injury that involves brain damage or bleeding.

Two girls heading a soccer ball simultaneously.

An untreated concussion can result in:

  • Prolonged symptoms (delaying an athlete’s safe return to play)
  • Second impact syndrome: A condition that occurs when an athlete whose brain is still healing from a concussion returns too early to sport and sustains another blow to the head. This second blow can cause a sharp decline in an athlete’s mental state, usually resulting in permanent brain damage (and in some cases, death).

If You Think You Have A Concussion

Anyone who is hit during sporting activity – in the head or somewhere else on the body – and does not feel "normal" in the head afterward should consider the possibility of concussion. Get evaluated immediately by a trained healthcare professional who is experienced in concussion treatment. Afterward, call our team for a comprehensive evaluation. The type of evaluation we perform is not offered in the emergency department or most physician's offices.

When you call to make an appointment, we will verify whether or not your insurance will cover a concussion evaluation. If you do not have insurance, cash prices apply.

Treatment for Sports-Related Concussion

Our team cares for athletes of all levels and ages, including high school, college, club, recreational, and professional/elite.

Initial Evaluation After a Head Injury: What to Expect

At your initial visit, you will meet sports medicine specialists who are skilled in evaluating sports concussions.

You'll receive:

  1. A diagnosis
  2. Education about concussion care and prevention
  3. A recovery plan

In some cases, your recovery plan may require further examination and treatment by additional members of our sports concussion team, such as neurologists or physical medicine and rehabilitation experts. 

Recovery services we offer for athletes with a diagnosed concussion include: 

  • Speech and language therapy
  • Vestibular therapy
  • Heart-rate-based exercise program
  • Acupuncture
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Osteopathic manual medicine
  • Personalized return-to-learn action plan
  • Personalized return-to-play action plan
  • Neurobiofeedback

Comprehensive Evaluation

Using industry-standard tests, a sports medicine physician and staff athletic trainer will assess symptoms such as orientation, memory, concentration, balance, neurocognition and vestibular status.

What The Pros Use
Our team includes a Credentialed ImPACT Consultant (CIC), a specialist who is trained in the use of ImPACT, a scientifically validated, research-based computer test that helps evaluate recovery following concussion.

ImPACT is used by NASCAR, NFL, NHL and MLB.

Baseline Testing: Playing it Safe Before Injury Occurs

Individual athletes and groups/teams can receive baseline testing either in our clinic or a sports facility.

A baseline test helps to establish your “normal” responses in things like balance, memory, and cognition. This is often done before the season starts so if a head injury occurs, our experts can evaluate you based on your individual "normal."

Our baseline testing can be individualized (based on your level of athletics) and usually takes up to 45 minutes to complete. We offer ImPACT testing as part of our baseline testing procedures.

Baseline testing is not covered by insurance as it is a preventive measure. Group/team prices may be negotiated.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of brain injury that changes the way your brain normally works. It can be caused by a jolt, blow or bump to the head or body.

While a concussion is described as a mild brain injury (not life threatening in most cases), the aftereffects of a concussion can be serious.

The brain is not fixed; it is actually suspended in cerebral spinal fluid within the skull. A sudden blow or jolt can cause the brain to shake quickly back and forth. When this happens, axons (long threadlike part of a nerve cell) become damaged.

Axons are responsible for transmitting messages between nerve cells in the brain – without them, nerve cells are unable to communicate. Blood vessel damage in the brain may also occur, which can cause swelling and inflammation.


In most cases, symptoms will appear immediately. However, sometimes symptoms may not appear until days or weeks after the incident.

The number one reported sign of a concussion following impact is a headache. Dizziness is the second most common symptom. 

Concussion symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Difficulty recalling information
  • Feeling stunned or dazed
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling slowed down, drowsy
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Nausea
  • Feelings of sadness
  • Sensitivity to light and/or noise
  • Emotional

Unless otherwise approved by your doctor, you should not return to mentally or physically demanding activities while you are still having symptoms.

Did You Know?

  • Most concussions occur without loss of consciousness.
  • Athletes who have had a past concussion have a higher risk for another.
  • Children and teens are more prone to concussions and take longer to recover than adults.

Preventing Sports-Related Concussion

While preventing concussions is challenging, it should be an important focus during daily sporting activities, not just for athletes but coaches, administrators and parents as well.

Head injury prevention insights:

  • In football, proper tackling technique has the best outcome for reducing concussions.
  • In sports with less contact such as basketball and baseball, it is important to teach body and visual awareness to help decrease the chance of a collision.
  • Heading a soccer ball has long been studied for its effects on concussions. However, there are currently no research studies that have definitively determined that heading causes concussions. There may be evidence that better neck strength and stabilization may lessen the chance of sustaining a head injury. 

Helmets and Concussion

Currently there is no evidence that a helmet will prevent you from having a concussion. Helmets were initially created to protect your head and face from trauma like fractures, lacerations, and mouth injuries. The creation of the helmet has led to a faster, harder hitting athlete.

It's important that you choose a helmet that is specifically made for the activity you're going to use it for. For example, cycling helmets are single-use helmets: they are designed to withstand a single intense blow to the head and should not be used again after impact occurs. Football, lacrosse and hockey helmets, on the other hand, are designed to withstand many small blows.

Another thing to avoid are add-on helmet devices such as external soft covers and internal shock reducers. Sports helmets are tested and certified by NOCSAE (national operating committee on standards for athletic equipment) and already include all of the materials necessary to reduce the risk of a head injury. After-market products or alterations made to a helmet made after testing voids NOCSAE certification and should not be used.

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