Since we’re on the subject of concussions, it would be good to start with the signs and symptoms you might notice if your child suffers a concussion. Headache is one of the most common symptoms, and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound. Do those symptoms sound familiar? Migraine headaches have much in common with the symptoms of a concussion.
The reason I mention that is because I occasionally see an athlete presenting these symptoms who doesn’t mention getting a head injury until I specifically ask them about it. Concussion symptoms can evolve over the initial 12 to 24 hours following a blow to the head, so don’t be fooled into thinking your child does not have a concussion because they denied having any symptoms when the actual injury occurred. I have often wondered if this is due to adrenaline or the excitement of the moment – similar to feeling all the aches and pains the next day after a sporting event.
People affected by a concussion also have a lot of cognitive symptoms. One of the most common ones I hear about is feeling like they are “in a fog” and that they struggle with concentration; parents may even notice that they look dazed. They may have difficulty remembering things, and sometimes do not even recall the concussion itself or the period of time before or after it. Sleep is commonly affected – often times sleeping much more than usual. A concussed athlete can also be very emotional or irritable.
Rest, and Rest Some More
As you can see, the brain has a lot of different ways of showing us that it has been affected by the concussion. So how can we get things back to normal? Rest is the key and involves both physical and mental rest. The physical rest is relatively straight foreword – the athlete cannot participate in sports, even practices, until they have been cleared to do so by their doctor. Mental rest is harder, because as any student athlete knows, the classroom doesn’t take a break when an injury happens. But any modifications we can make in the athlete’s daily routine (even simple things like having extra time for assignments, postponing big tests, or getting help with notes) can make a big difference in their eventual recovery time.
As I mentioned in my last post, the time for recovery averages 10-14 days for high-school aged athletes. But that time is unique to each athlete, and each injury. I have seen concussion symptoms resolve in just a few days, and I have had athletes who took months to recover from their concussion.
Getting Back to the Game
So how does your doctor know for sure when the athlete is ready to return to the field? The history and the physical exam performed in the office are the biggest parts of that decision. Other factors also play a role – such has how many concussions the athlete has had, or the presence of any other medical conditions that may pose an increased risk for prolonged recovery. One useful tool we now have at our disposal is ImPACT – a computerized test that tells us a lot about how the brain is working. ImPACT was not designed to be the sole determining factor in a return-to-play decision, but it can aid in that discussion.
The bottom line when it comes to concussions in youth sports is that we are dealing with a young athlete, one whose brain is continuing to grow and develop. We learn more about concussions all the time, but there is still a lot we don’t know when it comes to young athletes and the long-term effects of concussions. This is something to be taken seriously, especially when we see more and more professional athletes whose lives have been adversely affected by a history of concussions throughout their careers.
These young athletes have long lives ahead of them. Let’s help keep them as safe as we can! If you have any questions about concussions, or if you are concerned your child may have suffered a concussion, I encourage you to talk with your doctor about it. Long gone are the days when it was okay to just “shake it off.”