Student Athletes Just Want to Get Back to Playing

by Tony Doran, Psy.D.
HeadFirst Concussion Care Program Director

Parents beware… kids want to get back in the game. Injured or not, playing their sport is, after all, their passion. Who can blame them?

Often in the event of a concussion, the course of treatment is fairly straightforward.  Kids experience a traumatic brain injury and they go through a sequential recovery. After an initial period of rest the patient gradually returns to normal functioning.

Some of latest new research may indicate that the metabolic process of recovery normalizes for most mild head traumas around 30 to 40 days after the initial injury, which coincides with the timeframe of when many youth athletes are recovering from their concussion. However, with spring sports playoffs coming up, some athletes will try to push through their recovery faster to get back onto the field.


Even with all our advances in science and medicine, it still generally takes six to eight weeks for a human bone to heal. And, whether you’re 5 or 65 years, that’s just how long it takes for a bone to heal. When my patients have broken bones, I put brain injuries in perspective by asking if they’d go back onto the field with a break that hadn’t healed.  Inevitably, they answer, “Of course not, because I might do permanent damage.” At this point, I have to draw the parallel to having a traumatic brain injury and that returning to play too soon also could lead to lasting permanent brain damage.

I once treated a 15-year-old elite-level lacrosse player with a traumatic brain injury whose recovery was moving along nicely in the right direction. After 24 days, he had no symptoms and was completely back in school. When I performed a follow-up exam, everything looked great except his ocular-motor functioning, fine motor speed and neurocognitive test reaction time was a bit slow compared to other athletes at his level. He excused his slow performance by saying that he wasn’t trying as hard as he could have, but I saw that there were too many data points and subtle findings to indicate the young man was still recovering.

My patient, like so many athletes, was obviously anxious to get back to the game. He knew his teammates were counting on him but I had to remind him that protecting his brain was of the utmost importance.


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