How to Mismanage a Child’s Concussion

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

Lots of myths and misinformation exist about how parents and coaches can supervise the recovery of a child’s concussion. Some of the most common ones stem from advice that was given years ago. But better understanding of brain injuries and new imaging technology has changed how concussions are treated. Here’s what NOT to do when managing your child’s injury.

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1  — Waking Every Hour or Two
Decades ago, physicians and clinicians encouraged parents to wake up their concussed children frequently to monitor their mental status. However, with modern imaging and clinical evaluations, patients who have been cleared by a concussion specialist can sleep soundly. In fact, remaining asleep 12, 15 or even 20 hours following a head injury is actually helpful, restful, and promotes faster recovery.

2 — Return to the Game Too Soon
Most concussion laws in every state have a provision in which a child is removed from play when a concussion is suspected and can only be cleared to return by a concussion specialist. Unfortunately, clinicians will periodically encounter an overly ambitious parent wanting to return his or her child to play prior to making a full recovery from the concussion. Depending on the timing, this can be exceedingly dangerous. If it is too soon, the child may be in danger of secondary impact syndrome, which can be fatal.

3 — Keep Away from Friends and Electronic Devices
Socialization is an important part of adolescent development. Keeping a child completely isolated from friends and electronic devices can lead to a sense of isolation, and in some cases, even depression. Clinicians and parents need to be mindful of balancing remediation with a young person’s sensitive self-esteem.

4 — Promote Completely Inactivity and Darkened Rooms
Although some rest is thought to be useful from 48 to 72 hours after the head injury, extensive rest and inactivity in a dark room is actually thought to do more harm than good. The brain can actually have more difficulty to returning to normal activity following an extensive period of inactivity.

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Keeping It Simple is the Best Medicine

by Daniel Pokrifka, ATC/L
HeadFirst Concussion Care Program Administrator

No matter the type or severity of an injury or illness, the basics of healing are the same: A good night’s sleep, a warm bowl of chicken soup, a walk in crisp, clean air, and a cup of tea can heal all your troubles…or so, Grandma used to say. Well, Grandma now has some science to back her up, even when it comes to recovering from a concussion.

Your Brain Needs Time to Rest
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal mental health. The brain needs this time to perform the necessary function of memory consolidation and other essential processing. Without this, one’s mental faculties suffer. While healing from a brain injury, your brain needs more rest to perform these essential functions as well as promoting further healing from the injury. This increase in sleep is only recommended for the few days after the injury. Beyond this, a return to a normal sleep pattern is recommended to allow the body to adjust back to the normal circadian rhythm.

Feed Your Body Well for a Balanced Mind
The human body relies on healthy foods for optimal functioning, growth and healing. A regular diet rich in nutrients not only fuels the body for daily activity, but also it fuels the brain. Daily intake of good foods can also avert long-term problems with depression and anxiety that can arise with a prolonged injury. Colorful fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants are also especially good for strengthening blood vessel walls, including those in your brain.

Regular Exercise Promotes Faster Healing
Regular exercise boosts your good cholesterol and reduces your bad cholesterol, both of which keep your blood flowing smoothly and promote healing. Light exercise or therapy after an injury helps reduce pain, increase range of motion, and rebuild healthy muscle tissue. Gentle exercise after a concussion also elevates your brain’s secretion of serotonin, which can make you feel happier and more relaxed. This acts as a natural combatant against post-injury depression and anxiety.

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Water is the Source of Life
Proper hydration helps all body process to function properly. Without it your body cannot begin the process of healing. Clear, nonalcoholic and non-caffeinated drinks are best. For variety, add a squeeze of lemon or lime, or drink seltzer water. There is no magic number for the amount of water to consume but don’t wait until you’re thirsty — at that point, you’ll already be on the the way to dehydration.

While a concussion is a complicated injury, healing from it doesn’t have to be. Taking steps that include rest, nutrition, hydration and gentle movement will help heal your brain faster. With all the complexities of medicine it’s nice to know sometimes simple is best.