Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI)/Concussion
What is Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens after
an injury to the head or an injury to the body
affecting the head. Loss of consciousness is
possible. This is only in about 20% of all
head injuries. You can have a brain injury
without any loss of consciousness, skull
fracture, internal bleeding, or memory loss.
A “concussion” is the same thing as a mild
traumatic brain injury. Mild TBI (mTBI) is
often called an “invisible injury” because the
injury is too small to be seen on a CT scan
What happens to the brain after a Mild
Traumatic Brain Injury?
After an mTBI, the brain works very hard to
fix itself. This is not easy and uses a lot of
energy. The areas of the brain that help
make and move energy are often damaged.
This means that just when the brain’s need
for energy is high, the energy level is low.
This “mismatch” in energy can make the
brain feel slow.
Which symptoms are most common?
Headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness
are common. Some people have changes in
vision or hearing. Many say they think
slower, have a hard time focusing, or feel
“foggy.” Others complain of having trouble
following directions or feel like they can’t
do more than one thing at a time. Emotional
changes are also possible, such as being
more irritable, sad, or worried.
How long will the symptoms last?
Most people (about 80%) recover from a
mTBI in about 10-14 days. Some may have
symptoms that last much longer. People
with a history of learning disabilities,
ADHD, depression, or anxiety may recover
slower. Migraines or other head injuries can
also slow down recovery. Initially, it is
uncertain, how quickly you will recover.
Symptoms can get worse about 24-48 hours
after the injury before they start to get better.
How do we treat mTBI?
The best way to heal is by resting. This
includes both physical rest and brain rest.
Your body is working hard to heal your
brain and slowing down to let your brain
heal is the best way you can recover. You
should avoid activities that will increase
your heart rate or concentration. In the first
few days, activities such as, sports, screen
time on your phone and computer, and
reading should be avoided. If you have a
few days in a row without any symptoms,
these activities can be restarted slowly. Start
with 15-20 minutes at a time, and then
increase the time or the difficulty of the
activity. Anytime a symptom returns, it is
important that you stop the activity because
it is your body’s way of telling you that you
are doing too much.
When should I call the doctor?
After the first few days, symptoms should
start to get better if you follow the
suggestions above. Call your doctor if you
notice any of your symptoms getting worse
or if you have problems with your normal
activities. The doctor may order more tests.
An occupational, physical, or speech
therapist could check thinking skills and/or
mobility. The therapist(s) may give you
better ways to do your daily activities.
Return to work/school?
Ask your doctor when you can return to
work/school, as this is different for
everyone. Ideally, you should be symptom
free at home for one full day before
returning to work/school. When you return
to work/school, plan to return first for a half
day. The most important thing is to start
activities slowly and let your symptoms
guide you to help heal your brain faster.
RETURN TO WORK/SCHOOL
– A STEPWISE PLAN Step
Physical Activities Goal
1 Complete Brain Rest. Complete Physical
Focus on Recovery.
No exercise, reading,
or video screens.
2 Mental activities for
15-30 minutes at a
time (checking email,
Light exercise like
walking or aerobic
bike), light household
activities (unless not
cleared by doctor).
Gradually start these
activities; should not
3 Increase activities to
45-60 minutes at a
Increase length of
light exercise; no
Increase endurance by
repeating short periods
4 Half days at work. Full household
physical activity but
no impact activities.
endurance; slow down
if symptoms occur.
5 Full days at work. Once cleared by
doctor, resume all
Focus on returning to
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 9/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7264