What Happens When You Get Knocked Out?

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There are few things more exhilarating than watching a boxing game. The two fighters have very little to protect them in the ring. It’s definitely dangerous, and if you’re a fan of the sport you’ve probably seen some crazy knockouts in your time. The wrong (or right) punch sends a boxer down to the ground, and you just know they lost consciousness.

Is this good for their brains? No. But what exactly happens when they get knocked out? And how does this differ from when you get knocked out through anesthesia? As you might guess, one is safer than the other. 

What Happens When You Get Knocked Out?

During an injury, your brain gets overwhelmed and “shuts itself off.” Has your phone ever had to do so much at once that it completely powers itself down? A similar thing happens in your brain! You can also get “knocked out” by general anesthesia. 

We’re going to talk about both of the ways you can get “knocked out.” Although one is more intentional and certainly safer than the other, side effects can be similar. 

Getting Knocked Out By a Punch or Impact 

Have you ever thought about how your brain actually fits into your skull? You know you have your skin, your cranium (the bony part of your skull,) and the brain. But what goes in between the cranium and brain? 

To keep things simple, let’s just say underneath the cranium lies three layers of membranes and cerebrospinal fluid. Yes, your brain is floating in a bunch of fluid. We need this fluid so that the skull doesn’t bounce off of the cranium all the time. 

Most of the time, this works. If you are hit in the head by a punch, a heavy object, or even the impact of a car accident, your brain may move fast enough that it bumps up against your cranium and causes damage. You might know this as a concussion. (Note that you do not have to be hit in the head to get a concussion. The impact of stopping short after a car accident can also cause the brain to move so quickly that it causes injury. People with a concussion may or may not lose consciousness. 

During a severe injury, the brain not only hits one side of the cranium but also bounces off and hits the other side of the cranium. This can cause injury to many sides of the brain. 

Our brains are always taking in information and firing off neurons to communicate with the rest of the body. But when your brain experiences blunt force trauma, too many neurons might be firing at once. The whole body goes into overdrive. This can cause an array of reactions, including seizures. Often, the body simply shuts down and tries to “reset” itself. 

When you lose consciousness, you fall to the ground. This can actually be positive, as long as the fall does not cause any more blunt force trauma. Laying supine allows oxygenated blood to reach the brain and power it back up.

Getting Knocked Out By Anesthesia

Have you ever had to undergo general anesthesia for surgery? This is the type of anesthesia that knocks you out completely. Other forms of anesthesia, like local or regional, only affect certain areas of the body. We put ourselves under general anesthesia willingly, but we actually know less about how this works with the brain. All we know is that it works…most of the time. 

Most of the time, the nerves throughout our body are collecting sensory information and send it to the brain. We can physically feel and process if we have an itchy arm, are stepping on gravel, or are cuddled up in bed. Interestingly enough, the pain you feel throughout your body is often completely controlled by the brain. Pain is a response to changes in the environment that potentially pose threats to our survival. 

Anesthesia blocks nerves from sending signals to the brain, so we no longer experience pain. If we are under general anesthesia, we lose consciousness completely. There are a lot of questions that neuroscientists still have about this process, but they believe that when signals fail to reach the posterior parietal area, we become unconscious. 

How Long Does Being Knocked Out Last?

When it comes to injury, the length in which a person remains unconscious varies. After a mild brain injury, a person may stay unconscious for less than 15 minutes. In other cases, the loss of consciousness can last for hours or days. 

If you are knocked out because of a general anesthetic, recovery time is much shorter. Doctors will stop administering the anesthesia and wait between 5-20 minutes for patients to regain consciousness. 

In both cases, however, you might experience memory loss. Experts recommend that if you are knocked out, intentionally or not, to be supervised for 24 to 48 hours after. One should not drive if they have been recently unconscious because their reflexes or concentration may not have fully recovered. 

In the case of blunt force trauma, a person should supervise because other symptoms may indicate more serious damage. Symptoms of a concussion or injury include: 

  • Slurred speech 

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Mood swings, irritability, or strange behavior 

  • Glazed eyes or blurry vision 

  • Slow reaction time 

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Nausea and vomiting 

If you or someone you know has experienced blunt force trauma, look out for these symptoms. Even if the person didn’t experience unconsciousness doesn’t mean there isn’t damage to the brain. 

Can Getting Knocked Out Kill You? 

Yes! Not only can getting knocked out kill you but getting knocked out from one punch can kill you. There is even a campaign in the United Kingdom called One Punch Can Kill that shares information about the dangers of violence. If force hits the brain and causes the rupture of a major artery, a hemorrhage may occur and cause death within 12 hours. 

Getting knocked out can be pretty serious if caused by a punch, fall, or another type of impact. On the other hand, getting knocked out from anesthesia is pretty safe! Now that you are aware of symptoms and the process of becoming unconscious, you can be safer after experiencing injury or surgery.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, May). What Happens When You Get Knocked Out?. Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/what-happens-when-you-get-knocked-out/.

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