What is a Concussion?

STEPHANIE JOHNSONMaximum Performance Physical Therapist

With fall sports upon us, it’s time to talk about one of the most common – and frustrating – injuries kids experience: concussions. We’ll review what causes them, what to do if you suspect your child may have one, and finally what to do if they are diagnosed with one.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. It can happen when a person’s head is hit directly by an object, the ground, or a person. It can also occur when the head and neck move rapidly one direction and then another, which is typically called a “whiplash” injury.

When symptoms are severe after the initial injury, it can be easier to diagnose and treat a concussion; however, when symptoms are mild, they can be more difficult to recognize. If there is cause for concern, it is imperative that the training/coaching staff remove your child immediately from the sporting event and conduct baseline testing.

What symptoms might children experience?

  • Headaches
  • No memory of the injury when the concussion happened
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling “foggy”, “zoned out” or “slow”
  • Trouble paying attention, thinking or remembering
  • Blurry vision or seeing spots
  • Bothered by noise or light
  • Nausea
  • Being annoyed, frustrated or tired
  • Feels sad or cries more easily than usual
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Worried or nervous
  • Difficulty completing school work as quickly

What can parents do?

  • Encourage your child to talk
    They need to tell you about any of the symptoms they’re having. The sooner they are diagnosed and managing the condition, the faster they will be back playing.
  • Keep your child safe
    When a child is experiencing symptoms, it is important to prevent a second concussion. Children who have had more than one concussion can take longer to heal and can have longer-term problems. This is called “second impact” syndrome.
  • Take it slow
    The brain needs time to heal. In a recent study, Michael O’Brien M.D., associate director of the Sports Concussion Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, wrote: “recovery times were different between kids who immediately re-engaged in thinking-intensive activities vs. those who gave their brains a break. Kids who did homework, played video games, read books, or watched TV or movies took the longest to fully recover from their symptoms—about 100 days, on average. Kids who had mental rest recovered within 20-50 days.”
  • Encourage rest
    This may include napping or resting at school. Make sure the school nurse has been made aware of your child’s diagnosis.
  • Reduce distractions
    Remove electronic devices, such as phones and video gaming systems. No TV, movies or listening to music. Your child’s brain needs rest!
  • Provide memory help
    Give your child directions one step at a time and ask them to write things down or repeat what you have asked them to do.
  • Allow extra time/give breaks
    It’s common for kids with concussions to take a little longer to respond to a question or to finish a task.
  • Offer emotional support
    Kids can feel more emotional – angry or sad – about not being able to return to a sport, not being able to keep up with school work and feeling disconnected from friends. It’s important to let them know that restrictions are meant to help them heal and not as a punishment.
  • Be patient
    This is a frustrating injury. Be vigilant and don’t let your child return to school or sporting activates too soon as it will prevent healing. Help your child calm down and work with them to develop a strategy that allows them to return to normal daily activities.

As a parent, our most important job is to keep our children safe and help them grow into healthy adults. It takes a “team” effort including parents, teachers, coaches, athletic trainers and medical professionals to ensure a safe and successful return to your child’s sport. Remember: The safest plan is to have your child sit it out until he or she is symptom-free.


Young Athlete Center: Children’s Hospital of St. Louis

Washington University Physicians