Concussion is a brain injury. It can occur in any sport, you don’t have to be knocked or even be hit on the head to be concussed.

To treat concussion, remember the three R’s of concussion – recognise, remove, refer.

Recognise the signs of concussion

Concussion should be suspected if you see or hear any of the symptoms in the below table.

Consider carrying a ‘concussion card’ – a credit-card sized checklist to help you recognise these signs of concussion.
SportSmart concussion card (PDF155K)

What you see (physical signs)
  • Loss of consciousness or non-responsive
  • Lying on the ground not moving or slow to get up
  • Loss of balance/co-ordination
  • Dazed or vacant look
  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Visible injury to face or head (especially in combination with any other signs)
  • Grabbing/clutching of head.
What they say (memory)

Failure to answer any of these questions correctly may suggest a concussion.

  • “Where are we at today?”
  • “What day/month is it?”
  • “What just happened?”
  • “Who are you with?”
  • “What city/town do you live in?”
What they feel (clinical symptoms)

If any of these symptoms appear, concussion may be present.

  • Blurred vision
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Sensitivity to light &/or noise
  • Nervous or anxious
  • Fatigue
  • Headache/pressure in the head
  • Drowsiness/trouble sleeping
  • More emotional
  • Irritability
  • Problems with memory
  • Reduced ability to think/concentrate
  • Difficulty sleeping.

Red flags (requires immediate hospitalisation)

If no qualified medical professional is available, consider transporting by ambulance for urgent medical assessment.

  • Person complains of neck pain
  • Increasing confusion or irritability
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Seizure or convulsion
  • Weakness or tingling/burning in arms or legs
  • Deteriorating conscious state
  • Severe or increasing headache
  • Double vision
  • Unusual behaviour change.

Remove the person from activity

Any person with a suspected concussion should be immediately removed from activity.

They should not:

  • return until they are medically assessed.
  • be left alone
  • drive a motor vehicle.
To help an unconscious athlete

Apply first aid, remembering DRSABCD:

Danger - check for danger to you, the patient, or bystanders; and make the area safe

Response - check for response by asking a simple question and grasping the shoulders

Send for help - call for an ambulance or send someone else to call.

Airway - open the airway by tilting the head back and lifting the chin

Breathing - check normal breathing

CPR - perform chest compressions and breaths

Defibrillator - apply an AED (Automated Electronic Defibrillator) if available.

After that, they must be treated like they have a neck injury.

They should only be moved by a medical professional trained in spinal immobilisation.

Call 111 if there is concern regarding the risk of structural head or neck injury.

Refer them to a medical doctor

Anyone with a suspected head injury needs to see and be assessed by a medical doctor.

This is essential to:

  • confirm the diagnosis of concussion
  • assess the risk for more serious injury.

It is useful to have a list of local medical doctors, concussion clinics and emergency departments close to where you are doing your sport/activity.

This content is based on information in the Pocket Concussion Recognition Tool™.

For more information see ACCSportsmart’s concussion pages.

Concussion. Recognise the signs (external link)

Reviewed: 28 June 2016