I Have a Concussion, Now What?

by: Jared Ferreira ATC, LAT

Did you know that 1 in 5 high school athletes will sustain a sports-related concussion during the season? Or that 33% of high school athletes who have a sports concussion reported two or more in the same year? That's a lot of head injuries.

No matter what precautions you put in place, concussions are not entirely preventable, but if you are suffering from a concussion, then your treatment plan is crucial. By laying out the proper treatment plan, you can help prevent a longer recovery time. Here are some tips on recovery treatments and return to play protocols that are essential to follow to help players safely return to the field.

Concussion emergencies: Any athlete that suffers from a loss or diminished level of consciousness, or neural damage, should immediately be transported to the hospital by emergency medical services. Also, if the athlete has a high number and/or severity of signs and symptoms of a concussion, they should be brought to the hospital or seen by a concussion specialist as soon as possible.

Signs and symptoms: Things for others to watch for would be a loss or diminished level of consciousness, impaired balance, mental focus, change in emotion, coordination, speech, ocular (eye) and motor (muscle) control, and seizures. Other symptoms a concussed athlete will describe they are experiencing will be fatigue, headaches, numbness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), blurred vision, drowsiness, amnesia, nausea, hypersensitivity to light and sound, sadness, and irritability.

Treatments: Treatment can be dependent on the severity of symptoms present, and a concussion history can also play a big factor. The priority in the beginning, regardless of severity, should be letting the brain rest and recover with time. Proper recovery includes plenty of sleep, dark rooms, no/minimal use of electronic screens, no school/work, and minimal overall stimulus from other people or things around them. Rest alone can often be enough for symptoms to fully resolve without needing other treatments. Physical therapy treatments should be considered for those that don't see a regular decrease in symptoms as time goes on. Athletic trainers and physical therapists are skilled in treating concussions and can help with treatment by testing the athlete's balance, proprioception, coordination, and ocular responses, which are all controlled by the brain/nervous system.

Return to play protocol: An athletic trainer or coach should oversee a five-day return to play protocol for all concussions, regardless of severity. For a concussed athlete to be eligible to start the protocol, they must be symptom-free and cleared by a medical doctor; a concussion specialist is highly recommended. Once an athlete starts the protocol, they will be put through an exercise program that starts with just a small bout of aerobic exercise on the first day, then steadily increasing the intensity each consecutive day. As the protocol advances, the athletic trainer or physical therapist will institute sport-specific exercises to replicate their sport. The final stage will be a full-length practice with some game simulation included. The athlete should still be monitored by their athletic trainer and coaches for signs and symptoms for the remainder of the sports season.

Each athlete recovers differently, so it is important to create an individualized plan of care for each athlete who may be suffering from a concussion. By practicing the prevention and assessment tools, and partnering those with these recovery techniques, you can help reduce the number of concussions your players may suffer from, and get them back on the field better and faster than before.


- Learn more about the author: Jared Ferreira ATC, LAT

- Click here to learn more about what physical therapy is and what it can do to help you. If you are still not sure if physical therapy is what you need request an appointment to speak with a physical therapist about your concerns

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