Post Concussion Syndrome

What is Post-Concussion Syndrome?

After a concussion, we expect that most children will return to typical functioning within 3-4 weeks. However, a small portion of children can experience symptoms that continue for a longer duration. This is called post-concussion syndrome (PCS).

What are the Symtpoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome?

PCS symptoms vary from child to child. They can include any combination of the following:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep problems
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Changes in mood or anxiety
  • Difficultly tolerating school or exercise

For the small portion of children who do develop PCS, the symptoms can be difficult to manage. Symptoms can affect school attendance and make it hard for children to complete schoolwork. Symptoms can also lead to depression, anxiety or other social and behavioral conditions. Many children with PCS have difficulty with exercise and may withdraw from enjoyable activities. Without proper medical care, PCS can sometimes persist for months or even years.

What Causes Post-Concussion Syndrome?

There is no single cause of PCS. For most children with PCS, several factors contribute to difficulties. For example, experiencing a concussion can lead to changes in normal exercise, sleep and behavior patterns. Concussions can also be stressful and difficult to cope with, particularly when symptoms cause children to miss school, sports or other enjoyable activities.

We do not always know which children will experience a longer recovery, though children may be at higher risk for PCS if they have a history of anxiety or emotional conditions, attention or learning disabilities or have experienced frequent headaches prior to their injury.

How is Post-Concussion Syndrome Treated?

Each child’s experience with PCS is different. There are usually multiple factors contributing to prolonged symptoms, so treatment varies. There is no specific treatment, but doctors can treat the individual symptoms that make up PCS. 

Examples of treatment may include:

  • Exercise
  • Vestibular (inner ear) therapy
  • Neck therapy
  • Adjusting daily routines and sleep schedules
  • Modifications to the school day
  • Medications for headaches or pain
  • Counseling for anxiety and other mood disorders

Children who are experiencing concussion symptoms lasting more than a month can benefit from seeing a doctor who specializes in concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI). It might also be helpful to see providers who specialize in the specific problems you are experiencing. Often, several providers can work together to develop a plan of care, including a neurologist, neuropsychologist, physical therapist and athletic trainer.

Additional Resources