Concussions in Youth Sport: Dealing with Recovery
Over the last 25 years, sports-related concussions have been most common amongst children, adolescents, and young adults.
It is estimated that 10% of athletes in contact sports suffer a concussion and that more than half of concussions are never reported!
Dealing with a concussion can be a tricky and confusing process as the course of recovery is very unpredictable.
Symptoms can fluctuate on a daily basis and individuals respond differently to the same treatment.
With this, many questions arise such as:
What should I do or not do?
How long before symptoms resolve?
Can I return to sport?
What will happen in the future?
We will go through how to identify a concussion, concussion management, return to sport, and how we can help!
Identifying a Concussion
It is important to understand what a concussion is and what the common features of one are.
A concussion occurs when there is acceleration or deceleration resulting in a decrease of blood flow to the brain. A concussion does not necessarily need to involve contact to the head or neck as it can occur even with direct impact to the body that produces an impulsive force onto the head.
Here are some common immediate signs and symptoms to look out for.
If 1+ are present, a concussion is suspected:
- Delayed responses
- Slurred speech
- Memory deficits
- Loss of consciousness
It is important to note that signs and symptoms can evolve over a number of minutes to hours.
Therefore, if a concussion is suspected, the player should be removed from play immediately and should be monitored regularly to observe if there are any changes in their symptoms.
This is a vital step to reduce the risk of a secondary injury within close succession to the first.
Preventing Second Impact Syndrome
Following a concussion, the brain is more susceptible to severe and irreversible damage by a second impact of even slight force.
In athletes that experience two separate concussions, over 90% of them will experience those 2 concussions within 10 days of each other, which consistently increases duration and severity of symptoms experienced.
This further highlights the importance of being able to identify a concussion and preventing premature return to play in order to reduce permanent damage.
Concussion Management & Recovery
Children and youth who have suffered a concussion as a result of sport typically experience a prolonged recovery as brain development is still ongoing. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Approach management conservatively and delay return to play to optimize full recovery.
As mentioned previously, the course for recovery can be very unpredictable and symptoms may fluctuate. Here is a list of symptoms that one may experience during their recovery:
- Neck pain
- Vision changes
- Balance difficulties
- Sensitivity to light and/or noise
- Concentration difficulties
- Difficulty remembering
- Sleep disturbances
Again, individuals respond differently to treatment and prognosis is difficult. Data has shown that athletes who visited a clinic within the first week of sustaining a concussion averaged a 20-day faster recovery in comparison to athletes who waited 2-3 weeks. Early intervention plays such a large role!
While the road to recovery may look different for some people, here are common features that are part of the process.
Take it Easy
The old school way of thinking was that whoever sustained a concussion needed to rest and not take part in any brain activity. We can toss that out the window as what we’ve learned is that extended periods of rest can actually delay recovery. The best recommendation is to just take it easy for the first couple days and gradually return to activity
Similar to the point above, the old school way was to lock yourself in a dark room, away from the sunlight, not looking at a screen, and limiting activity. It is recommended that concussion patients gradually increase their mental and physical activity with guidance from a healthcare provider trained in concussion management.
Watch What You Eat
We can influence our recovery from a concussion with what we eat! A diet that is high in processed fat and sugar can actually increase markers of inflammation which can delay concussion recovery.
Sleep, Sleep and More Sleep
Difficulties sleeping is often the most common reported symptom when it comes to concussions and is a strong predictor of prolonged concussion-like symptoms. Therefore, practicing good sleep hygiene habits has the potential to make a world of a difference!
Return to Sport Protocol
The first question that typically comes to mind for younger athletes who suffer a concussion, or any injury for that matter, is “When can I play again?” The return to activity/sport protocol is composed of multi-staged levels where patients must be able to complete stages of increasing activity intensity and sport specificity over a period of time without any symptom reproduction. Athletes should have at least 1 full contact practice session prior to playing in a game.
How We Can Help!
Here at Sporting Edge Physiotherapy, we can assist you with concussion related services including:
- A thorough clinical assessment
- Baseline and post-injury testing
- Nutritional advice
- Sleep hygiene recommendations
- Graded testing for return to sport
- Vestibular, oculomotor and cervical spine rehab
- Educational resources