During the past decade, it’s become clear that many young athletes take much longer than 10 days to clinically recover after a concussion. The majority of athletes recover within the first month of injury.
A concussion can occur when there is a significant blow to the head. Some signs of a more severe concussion are the presence and increased severity of nausea, dizziness, balance problems, sensitivity to light and noise, feeling “slowed down,” pressure in the head, confusion, concentration problems, and difficulty falling asleep.
Many factors can affect recovery time, such as the development of headaches, dizziness, or depression. The strongest and most consistent predictor of slower recovery from a sports- related concussion is the severity of symptoms in the first day, or initial few days, after the injury. Conversely, having few symptoms the first day after injury usually means recovery will be faster.
To date, there isn’t enough evidence that prescribing complete rest helps achieve recovery. After a brief rest period for 24 to 48 hours after injury, patients can become gradually and progressively more active, as long as their activity level doesn’t bring on or worsen their symptoms. It is reasonable for athletes to avoid vigorous exertion while they are recovering.
Once concussion-related symptoms have resolved, most athletes can continue to proceed to the next stage if it doesn’t cause symptoms to return. Each step generally takes 24 hours. That means many athletes would take a minimum of one week to proceed through the full rehabilitation program. However, the time frame for returning to sports varies with player age, history, and level of sport, so the program must be individualized.
Jeremy Vandehurst, MA, ATC, is a certified athletic trainer and concussion coordinator with Barton Health’s Tahoe Center for Orthopedics.