A concussion is a brain injury that results in a temporary disruption of normal brain function. A concussion occurs when the brain is violently rocked back and forth or twisted inside the skull due to a blow to the head or body. An athlete does not have to lose consciousness (be “knocked out”) to suffer a concussion.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you call your child’s doctor for advice if your child receives anything more than a light bump on the head.
If an athlete is suspected of having a concussion, he or she must immediately be removed from play, be it a game or practice. Continuing to participate in physical activity after a concussion can lead to worsening concussion symptoms, increased risk for further injury, and even death. Parents and coaches are not expected to diagnose concussions; that is the job of a medical professional. However, you must be aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion—and if you are suspicious, then your child must stop playing.
Following a concussion, many athletes will have difficulty in school. These problems can last from days to months and often involve difficulties with short- and long-term memory, concentration, and organization.
In many cases, it is best to temporarily lessen the athlete’s class load after the injury. This may include staying home from school for a few days, followed by a lightened schedule for a few days, or longer, if necessary. Decreasing the stress on the brain immediately after a concussion can mitigate symptoms and shorten recovery time.Your child's physician will make recommendations as needed.
Why is it so important that an athlete not return to play until they have completely recovered from a concussion?
Athletes who are not fully recovered from an initial concussion are significantly vulnerable for recurrent, cumulative, and even catastrophic consequences of a second concussive injury. Such difficulties are avoided if the athlete is allowed time to recover from the concussion and return-to-play decisions are carefully made. No athlete should return-to-a sport or to other activities that place them at risk if symptoms of concussion are present and recovery is ongoing.
Is a “CAT scan” or MRI needed to diagnose a concussion?
Diagnostic testing, which includes CT (“CAT”) and MRI scans, are rarely needed following a concussion. While these are helpful in identifying life-threatening brain injuries (e.g., skull fracture, bleeding, swelling), they are not normally used in these cases, even for athletes who have sustained severe concussions. A concussion is diagnosed based upon the athlete’s recounting of the injury and the healthcare provider’s physical examination.
What is the best treatment to help my child recover from a concussion more quickly?
The best treatment for a concussion is rest. There are no medications that can speed the recovery from a concussion. Exposure to loud noises, bright lights, computers, video games, television, and phones (including text messaging) all may worsen the symptoms of a concussion. You should allow your child to rest as much as possible in the days following a concussion. As the symptoms lessen, you can allow increased use of computers, phones, video games, etc., but use must be decreased if symptoms worsen.
How long do the symptoms of a concussion usually last?
The symptoms of a concussion will usually go away within one week of the initial injury. You should anticipate that your child will likely be out of sports for about two weeks following a concussion. However, in some cases symptoms may last for several weeks, or even months. Symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, poor concentration, and mood changes can interfere with school, work, and social interactions. The potential for such long-term symptoms underscores the need for careful management of all concussions.
Parents and caregivers of children who have had a concussion can help them recover by taking an active role in their recovery:
If you already had a medical condition at the time of your concussion (such as chronic headaches), it may take longer for you to recover from the concussion. Anxiety and depression may also make it harder to adjust to the symptoms of a concussion. While you are healing, you should be very careful to avoid doing anything that could cause a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body. On rare occasions, receiving another concussion before the brain has healed can result in brain swelling, permanent brain damage, and even death, particularly among children and teens.
After you have recovered from your concussion, you should protect yourself from having another one. People who have had repeated concussions may have serious long-term problems, including chronic difficulty with concentration, memory, headache, and occasionally, physical skills, such as keeping one’s balance.