What to Know About Concussions

Posted on September 10, 2019 at 3:45 PM by McFarland Sports Medicine

Concussions are head injuries that occur from a direct or indirect blow causing a transient brain injury.

Student-athletes that suffer a concussion will go through protocols to get back to their normal activities. McFarland Sports Medicine physician Sarah Bancroft, DO talks about the various things that take place after a concussion.

Concussion Screening

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Physical Impact of Concussions

When a student athlete suffers a concussion or head injury, it is typically from a direct blow to the head. That causes the head or neck to twist in a certain position, causing the brain to hit the side of the skull.

Mental Impact of Concussions

“There are downstream side effects that typically affect the nervous system,” says Dr. Bancroft.

Those effects include a variety of symptoms such as a change in the balance system, mental memory, cognition, sleep, mood and reaction time.

What Happens After a Concussion?

It is very important when a parent, coach or student-athlete identifies that the student suffered a concussion that they pull themselves out of play immediately.

Dr. Bancroft says that even if an athlete is pulled out of play, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a concussion. An athletic trainer or healthcare professional can evaluate them on the sideline to decide whether they have a concussion.

If it's decided the athlete suffered a concussion, they need to stay out of any sport or contact activities. Then they should seek help from a medical professional such as a physician or someone who manages concussions.

Return to Learn

More information about the Return to Learn protocol.

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Return To Learn

The next step of the concussion recovery is the “Return to Learn” protocol. This protocol was adopted as a state law in July 2019 to ensure that an athlete is able to do their school work mentally. This is the first step to getting them back to school.

Return To Play

After “Return to Learn” is completed, students will be in a “Return to Play” protocol. The student athlete will slowly return to their sport on the protocol’s progression.

Dr. Bancroft says that timeline is typically 10 to 14 days to get through the concussion symptoms and return to learn.

On average, athletes fully return to their sport after two to three weeks, but every athlete’s brain heals differently.

Sleep After Concussion

When an athlete’s brain is injured, the entire nervous system is in overdrive, making sleep important for the first 48 hours. After 48 hours, it’s important for an athlete to get into a normal sleep schedule and try to avoid napping.

“Athletes can nap as much as they want the first 48 hours but after that, for their brain to re-equilibrate to daily activities, it is important to get back into that sleep-wake schedule with eight to nine hours of sleep a day,” Dr. Bancroft says.

Screen Time After Concussion

Screen time after a concussion can often trigger symptoms, but not for every athlete.

“As we are trying to get our brain back into our daily activities, like it was before a head injury, we want athletes to do screen time,” Dr. Bancroft says.

Dr. Bancroft recommends to allow an athlete to have 15-20 minutes of screen time and take a break. This can be repeated a few times, and as long as the athlete feels fine afterward, they can have as much screen time as they want.

“Certain things might trigger symptoms, such as action movies or things where there are fast paced objects flying,” Dr. Bancroft said.

If a student athlete does have symptoms from screen time, they shouldn’t be discouraged. They can try that activity again the next day and could feel fine.

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