Children's Hospital Colorado

Is it Safe to Return to Sports after a Concussion?

Sports Medicine doctor, Dr. Julie Wilson, performs concussion test with soccer player.

Many parents wonder if it is safe for their child to return to playing football, soccer, lacrosse or other sports after sustaining a concussion. After a significant head injury, athletes should always be evaluated by a healthcare provider to determine if a concussion has occurred.

It is important to correctly diagnosis the injury right away and to ensure that a more serious injury is not present. If a concussion is diagnosed, the athlete should not return to sports without clearance from a healthcare provider familiar with concussion management. 

Three reasons to delay return to play

Athletes should not be allowed to continue playing sports, including practices and conditioning, while recovering from a concussion for a variety of reasons:

  1. Recovery time: In one study among high school athletes, athletes who were immediately removed from play after a concussion recovered twice as fast as athletes who continued to participate.
  2. Worsening symptoms: Strenuous activity soon after a concussion has been associated with worsening symptoms.
  3. Increased risk: Parents and young athletes should be aware that a second head injury while an athlete is recovering from a concussion can increase the risk of complications, including the potential for increased symptoms, longer recovery and a more significant brain injury.

Though catastrophic brain injuries are rare in youth sports, it’s important to appropriately diagnosis and manage concussions. We also recommend having medical resources available for injured athletes.

How many concussions are too many?

A common question we get in the Concussion Program is, “How many concussions are too many before we decide that this may not be the best sport for my child?” Concussion symptoms typically resolve within a few days to a few weeks, and long-term problems are not seen, so the majority of young athletes can return to sports once cleared by a medical provider.

When an athlete has sustained multiple concussions, a number of factors are considered in the decision to return an athlete to competitive sports, as there is no definite number that requires retirement or disqualification from sports:

  • Number of concussions
  • Timing of concussions (interval between injuries)
  • Duration of recovery and required treatment
  • Presence of complications or incomplete recovery
  • Injury threshold (level of force required to cause injury)
  • Injury risk of desired activity

We recommend consulting with a concussion specialist to help weigh the above factors so that the parent and athlete can make the best decision for their situation.

Learn more about the Concussion Program at the Orthopedics Institute at Children's Hospital Colorado.