Supporting an Athlete's Recovery From Concussion

Support during and after a concussion

It is very important that an athlete’s recovery from a concussion be monitored by a healthcare provider so that the athlete can safely follow a return to play protocol in a protected and monitored manner.

Many states have a youth sports concussion law that requires a student-athlete be removed from play if a concussion is suspected and then be cleared by a medical professional before returning to play.

The cornerstone to treatment of a concussion is rest. Cognitive and physical rest are essential to help the brain heal. Players with a concussion should not be doing any activities that increase the metabolic demands on the brain or make the brain work hard. Breaking a sweat (increasing their heart rate) or even reviewing a play book can trigger symptoms.

Return to both cognitive and physical activity should occur in steps guided by an athlete’s medical team. If a school does not have an athletic trainer, coaches will need to work closely with the player’s healthcare provider to ensure a safe progression back to full athletic activity.

The return to play progression is variable and can be as short as one week, but may take longer, with the player advancing to the next step as tolerated. It is crucial that activity be stopped immediately if signs or symptoms of concussion return.

Video FAQs about returning to play after a concussion

Risks for repeat concussions

If players return to activity before they have fully healed from a concussion, they are at risk for a repeat concussion. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain has a chance to recover from the first can slow recovery or increase the chance for long-term problems. If a player is not fully recovered, even a minor impact can cause a repeat concussion and cause more severe symptoms. In rare cases, a repeat concussion can result in severe swelling and bleeding in the brain, which can be fatal.

Coaches in particular are in a unique position to prevent repeat injuries.

Sports-related concussions and how they affect school performance

There are several potential complications associated with a concussion, including difficulty transitioning back to school. While most adolescent players recover from a concussion in one to three weeks, about 10 percent will have prolonged symptoms for several months, affecting many aspects of school. Persistent symptoms typically involve headaches, difficulty concentrating, poor memory and difficulty staying organized. These prolonged symptoms can greatly affect school performance as well as social interactions with peers.

Academic accommodations can help with the return to learn process. Once injured athletes are back in school, with permission from their physician, they may be able to begin aerobic non-contact training. Allowing injured athletes to interact with their teammates decreases feelings of isolation and changes in mood that can occur with concussions. In addition, aerobic activities at this stage become important to recovery.

With permission from the physician, coaches can help the recovery process by allowing injured athletes opportunities to participate with non-contact team training.

Reviewed on April 23, 2014