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Changes in Post-Concussion Care: What Parents Need to Know

Apr 15, 2021
child wearing a mask holding an adult's hand

Concussion is a common injury among children and teens, especially among athletes. Concussions can negatively affect physical, cognitive, emotional, and sleep health. No athlete wants to sit on the sidelines when they’re hurt, but that’s often what’s recommended to help their brain heal after a concussion – a form of traumatic brain injury.

But how long does an athlete need to sit on the sidelines? How long should they stay home from school or avoid driving? Research is always changing on concussions and how we treat them.

Traditionally, a child or teen with a concussion is told to sit in a dark room without their phone, computer, TV, or even schoolwork. Their brain needs time to heal from its traumatic injury, and a dark room is how to encourage healing.

However, new evidence showed that putting a child in a dark room or without letting a child do anything is not helpful at all and could make symptoms worse because of withdrawal from school, sports, and other activities. To date, physicians don’t have strong evidence for advising athletes when and how best to reintroduce activities.

Fortunately, a new study by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy, Sports Medicine and Emergency Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital has found that children and teens are generally pretty good at self-pacing their physical and cognitive activity.

Self-paced physical and cognitive activity – for example, a light walk or some simple schoolwork – during the first week after they got a concussion didn’t make concussion recovery time longer in children and teens. Physicians may encourage safe, non-contact, light physical activity if it does not make youths’ concussion symptoms worse, while also continuing to emphasize appropriate amounts of necessary rest.

With the guidance of physicians and athletic trainers, there may be room for personalized treatment plans based on the symptom burden, while still following important guidelines protecting the patient from repeat head injury during the recovery time.

Learn more about the Sports Concussion Program or follow Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine on Twitter @NCHSportsMed.

Featured Expert

Laura Dattner
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Laura Dattner is a research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. With both a health communications and public health background, she works to translate pediatric injury research into meaningful, accurate messages which motivate the public to make positive behavior changes.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.