By Julie Wilson, MD, Sports Medicine Physician
Co-Director – Children’s Hospital Colorado Concussion Program
What if I have a concussion?
Concussions are common injuries on the athletic field, but also can occur as a result of car accidents, falls and work-related injuries. Evaluation by a medical provider is also important to determine if any other injuries occurred at the same time as the concussion (i.e. neck injury), as well as to rule out a more serious brain injury.
Once your medical provider has diagnosed you with a concussion, he or she will often recommend a brief period of physical and mental rest until concussion symptoms improve, help you manage symptoms, and provide recommendations for a gradual return to normal activities.
Who can take care of me after a concussion?
Your primary care physician (PCP) will be able to care for you in most situations, and visiting an Emergency Department or Urgent Care is not necessary unless symptoms are severe or worsening. Any qualified health care provider, such as an MD, DO, PA or NP, can provide medical care for patients suspected of having a concussion.
If symptoms last more than a few weeks, or do not improve as expected, then you may be referred to a concussion specialist, which may be a provider in Sports Medicine, Neuropsychology, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation or Neurology.
When should I return to school or work?
Every concussion is different, but most people can resume their normal routine within a few days after their injury. Your concussion symptoms do not need to be completely gone before going back to school or work; however, you may benefit from adjustments in your school or work demands to avoid worsening symptoms while recovering.
Work with your health care provider to create an individualized plan for your return to work or school. For more information about the return to school process, visit www.childrenscolorado.org/concussion (**awaiting academic program publication on website**).
When can I return to sports and other physical activity?
Current guidelines prohibit return to sports or competitive physical activity on the same day a concussion occurred, even at the professional sports level. You should consult with your medical provider to discuss when it is appropriate to return to physical activity.
In general, you should be free of concussion symptoms and back to full capacity at work or school before being released to return to competition. In addition, many concussion experts recommend following a “Return to Play” protocol, to help gradually advance physical activity demands while still monitoring for concussion symptoms.
For youth and high school athletes, the Jake Snakenberg Act (CO Senate Bill 11-040) requires written clearance from a medical provider before an athlete can return to the playing field. Collegiate athletes have similar regulations under NCAA guidelines. These regulations were created in an attempt to prevent more severe complications following concussion (e.g., brain bleed, “second impact syndrome”). Second impact syndrome is an incredibly rare condition that is thought to occur in the setting of a second head injury before brain recovery from the first concussion. This life-threatening complication results in rapid brain swelling, which can lead to coma, paralysis and even death.
How long will it take me to recover?
Fortunately, most people recover from a concussion within a few days to a few weeks after injury. Long-term problems and complications from concussions are rare, and you are expected to fully recover, especially with the assistance of a trained health care provider who can accurately diagnose and treat concussion symptoms.
For more information about concussions in youth athletes, please visit www.childrenscolorado.org/concussion.
1. Colorado Senate Bill 11-040 – Available online http://www.leg.state.co.us/clics/clics2011a/csl.nsf/fsbillcont2/A9CE9CEE12645CAA8725780800800D80/$FILE/040_01.pdf. Effective January 1, 2012.
2. NCAA Concussion Policy – Guideline 21: Sports-Related Concussion. http://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/SMHguide21.pdf. Updated July 2013.
3. McCrea HJ, et al. Concussion in Sports. Sports Health 2013 Mar;5(2):160-4.