A Student Athletes’ Guide to Concussion
What is a concussion?
Simply put, a concussion is a brain injury. A concussion occurs when the brain is shaken violently inside the skull. The typical cause of concussion is from a fall or bump to the head; but any significant force to the body can also be a mechanism of injury. When the brain has been shaken in the skull, it will alter the alertness of the injured person. A person does not have to lose consciousness to suffer a concussion; and it can be a difficult injury to assess as there is not always a visible bump, bruise, or cut. The most common symptoms of a concussion are headaches, dizziness and nausea. However, there are many different signs and symptoms, and some will not present until hours after the injury occurred.
Most people are aware that if they have suffered a concussion they should stop all physical activity. Recently, greater emphasis has been placed on the benefits of removing the injured person from work or school as well. Continual mental exertion can cause symptoms to remain for a longer period of time, and in order to heal, your brain needs both physical and mental rest. Many school boards already have “Return to Learn” protocols in place for when a student is concussed.
The first step after sustaining a concussion should be to seek help from a health care professional. Ideally, once a student has been diagnosed with a concussion, he/she should be absent from school until they are completely symptom free. To assist in recovery students should not use any type of electronic screen (television, computer, cell phones, iPod, etc.), and should refrain from all physical activity.
Once symptom free the student/athlete should return to school gradually, beginning with minimal school work (reading, workbooks for short periods of time.) This can start at home in a controlled environment. Recovery times will vary. Some people are able to read for hours with no symptoms returning, while others can only read for 20 minutes.
Frequent breaks should be taken. When the student is able to complete small amounts of work and remain symptom free, only then should they return to school on a limited basis. Ideally the student should begin partial or half days, alternating morning and afternoon sessions. Students will often require extra time for tests and assignments. Using quiet study rooms rather than the classroom will also help.
As the student returns to school full time both work load and classroom time should increase gradually. If any symptoms return when the student is working, more rest with a smaller workload is required. Good communication between the student, teacher, parents and the school is essential throughout the entire process. Check with your school to see if there is a concussion protocol in place. It is important to note that every concussion is different and that the steps for school and activity are guidelines only.
You should be in contact with a health care professional, like an Athletic Therapist, that can make this process individualized for each person’s symptoms and progression. An Athletic Therapist is recognized among health care professionals as being qualified to aid in concussion management. Along with rest, there are treatments such as craniosacral therapy and muscle energy techniques, an Athletic Therapist can utilize to help alleviate symptoms of concussion.
Soft tissue treatment for the neck is also recommended to relieve muscular tightness as this could be a contributing cause of a persistent headache. Athletic Therapists can help direct you to a physician, provide treatment, and educate you on the entire process; from injury to return to school, work and play.
Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion:
Pressure in head
Loss of consciousness
Ringing in ears
Sensitivity to light or noise
Feeling slowed down
Feeling “foggy” “Don’t feel right”
Change in sleep pattern; difficulty sleeping
Concentration or memory problems
Feeling more emotional
Confusion, disorientation (i.e. regarding the game, score, etc.)
any change in typical behavior or personality
Return to Play Guidelines
Step 1: No Activity/Complete Rest
Step 2: Light Aerobic Exercise (i.e. stationary bike for 10-15 minutes)
Step 3: Sport Specific Activity (i.e. skating, running, swimming for 20-30 minutes with NO Contact)
Step 4: Drills with NO contact (i.e. shooting, passing)
Step 5: Drills with contact (Full practice with contact once medically cleared to return) If at any point symptoms return, you must rest, and then repeat the previous step. Be aware that symptoms may return a few hours after the activity. Each step above will take a minimum of one day.
Article courtesy Amber Caughill CAT(C), BSc.Kin