Concussions: When Can Youth Athletes Return to Play?
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When my son played college football, he was out for several weeks with a concussion, and was very impatient with the delay. But he followed the doctor’s instructions because he knew it was the safest thing to do.
According to SmartTeams, there are three stages to recovery:
Stage 1: Complete physical and cognitive rest
Stage 2: Light activity as tolerated, such as walking, swimming, or stationary biking. This does not include any sports training.
Stage 3: Once your child is symptom-free through a full day of school, and can tolerate light aerobic activity, he or she can resume sport-specific training such as light jogging/running, throwing a baseball and kicking a soccer ball. There should be absolutely no head-impact activities.
Stage 4: When your child can tolerate sport-specific exercise, they may advance to non-contact drills and heavier, non-contact physical exercise such as sprinting and weightlifting.
Stage 5: At this point, with your doctor’s approval and a coach’s observation, your child can resume normal activity. Students must be evaluated and cleared (in writing) to play by a medical professional, as determined by your school district.
Medical experts suggest a seven-day rest period before moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 in the recovery process. Watch your child carefully as they move through these stages in increments of 24 hours, and if you see any returning symptoms, go back to the previous stage where they were symptom free. Wait another 24 hours to resume moving through the stages.
And now for the non-negotiables:
- Players should not practice or play until completely symptom-free.
- No return to play the same day as the injury, regardless of competitive level.
- Be aware of the athlete’s concussion history; previous injuries and any learning disabilities become vital in concussion management.
If during recovery you see any of the following symptoms, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests you call 911:
- Confused, restless or agitated state
- Impaired consciousness
- Difficult to arouse or unable to awaken
- Repeated vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Bloody or clear fluid from the nose or ears
- Weakness/tingling in the arms or legs
With a week of recovery and a week to move through the stages, your child should be out for at least two weeks. Some leading experts, including Dr. Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, a sports-concussion neuropsychologist featured in The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer, recommend that children and adolescents take a minimum of three weeks to rest before returning to sports post concussion. It might seem like forever to your athlete—and even to you. But when it comes to concussion safety, you must focus on the long term. Your child’s full recovery and future health depend on it.
Janis Meredith is a family coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.