The #1 question athletes ask after a concussion is how soon they can start playing again. Usually, the answer is simple: When your symptoms are gone and a health care provider (such as a doctor, nurse, or physician assistant) tells you it's OK.
Why Do I Have to Wait to Play Sports After a Concussion?
Concussions can be tricky: You might feel fine, but your thinking, behavior, and/or balance may not be back to normal. Only a health care provider trained in caring for people with concussions can tell these things for sure.
It’s important to wait until you're completely healed before going back to sports. That's because it takes less of a hit to get another concussion. And the symptoms of the new concussion may be different, sometimes worse. Also, repeated concussions can lead to long lasting, serious effects on the brain.
So, how does your health care provider know you are ready to play again? They will consider you cleared for sports when:
All symptoms of the concussion are gone.
You are not taking any medicines for concussion symptoms.
You don't have symptoms after jogging, sprinting, sit-ups, or push-ups.
Some schools do baseline concussion tests for athletes (computer programs to test attention, memory, and speed of thinking). If this is available, health care providers can compare baseline testing to results after the concussion. The results need to be back to baseline before students are cleared to go back to all activities.
How Should I Return to Sports?
When your health care provider gives you the OK to play sports again, ease back into things. And make sure you follow safety precautions for preventing concussions. At every stage, stop playing right away if you get a head injury or any symptoms return.
After a brief 24- to 48-hour rest period, you can start doing some light activity, such as riding an exercise bike or going for a brisk walk or slow jog as long as it doesn't make the concussion symptoms worse. As you tolerate these activities, you can add some light individual drills (such as kicking a soccer ball or playing catch). Before adding more intense activities or going back to organized sports, you should see your health care provider.
If your team or school has an athletic trainer, they can help you put a schedule together. You will need frequent rest days as you add activities. As long as an activity doesn’t cause symptoms, you can slowly add more intense activities, including those that involve head movement. The last steps are full practice with possible contact and then actual competition.
What Else Should I Know?
It's very important to wait until the doctor says it's safe for you to return to sports. But people sometimes feel pressure to start playing again — they worry about letting down the team, feel pushed by a coach, or don’t want to miss out on the games. But the best way to get back in the game as quickly and safely as possible is to follow your health care provider’s recommendations as you heal from your concussion.
With rest and a gradual return to activities, most teens with concussions recover within a week or two without lasting health problems.