- Doctors & Departments
- Conditions & Advice
- Your Visit
- Research & Innovation
A concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury caused by a forceful blow or jolt to the head or body that disrupts how the brain normally works. A person does not need to be knocked out or lose consciousness to have a concussion.
Many parents wonder if it is safe for their young athlete to return to playing football, soccer, lacrosse or other sports after a concussion. An appropriately trained healthcare provider can answer these questions and provide guidance on when it is safe and sensible for an athlete to return to sports.
Athletes should not be allowed to continue playing sports, including practices and conditioning, while recovering from a concussion for a variety of reasons:
Catastrophic brain injuries, such as those that result in death or permanent neurologic injury, are extremely rare in youth sports. Nevertheless, it's important to understand that they can happen so that they can be identified immediately and appropriately managed.
The youth sports concussion law (Senate Bill 40, or the "Jake Snakenberg Youth Concussion Act") took effect in 2012 and puts safety measures in place to help young athletes who suffer from a head injury while playing sports.
Concussion symptoms typically resolve within a few days to a few weeks, and generally there are no long-term problems. Most young athletes can return to sports once a medical provider has cleared them. There is no definite number of concussions that requires retirement or disqualification from sports, as each case should be considered individually. When an athlete has sustained multiple concussions, many factors are considered in the decision to return an athlete to competitive sports, including:
We recommend consulting with a concussion specialist to help weigh the factors above so the parent and athlete can make the best decision for their situation.
The idea that two closely spaced concussions results in a devastating brain injury has become known as "second impact syndrome." However, this phenomenon has come into question because research has not found that back-to-back concussions cause severe brain injury.
It is important to note that catastrophic outcomes can happen after sport-related head injuries. Fortunately, these outcomes in sports are extremely rare, occurring much less frequently than from activities we let our children do every day, such as riding in motor vehicles or biking. It's also important to remember that there are many scientifically known benefits to participation in sports including benefits for physical health, academic achievement, and social and emotional functioning.
There is no single test that can definitively determine whether an athlete has had a concussion and when they are ready to return to play. Your healthcare provider should determine if the athlete is functioning at their typical level in all areas of life prior to clearance for sports. It can also be helpful to receive information from the athlete, their parents and teachers, as well as peers and coaches if possible.
Our providers typically consider clearance once the athlete is:
Certain athletic programs require athletes to take a computerized baseline test before competing on a sport's team. These tests evaluate the athlete's cognitive functions to establish a baseline in the event of a concussion during the season. If an athlete is suspected of having a concussion during the season, a second test can be administered and compared to the baseline test. Unfortunately, these tests may not be as reliable or useful as originally thought, and should not be used in isolation to diagnose or manage a concussion.
Theoretically, these tests are appealing because they have the potential to provide additional information about an athlete's thinking, memory and response speed after a concussion. However, at present, the value of baseline testing remains scientifically questionable, especially for younger athletes.
Athletes who have had a concussion should undergo a thorough medical examination soon after injury. After an injury, a brief period of reduced activity and rest may be beneficial (ex. a day or two), but most children won't need to miss many days of school. For students who could benefit from a gradual transition, returning for partial school days may be worthwhile before advancing to full days.
Learn more about returning to school after a concussion and how to create a concussion comeback plan for students.
Children's Colorado's Concussion Program is committed to evidence-based, interdisciplinary care tailored to the individual patient, as well as to partnering with referring providers, school personnel and athletic clubs. Our team of board-certified pediatric experts in emergency medicine, sports medicine, rehabilitation, neuropsychology and neurosurgery are joined by certified athletic trainers, psychologists, physical therapists, nurses and other support. The entire team has special training in concussion to offer a streamlined, comprehensive approach to concussion.
To schedule an appointment or get more information about our Concussion Program, please call 720-777-2806. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children's Hospital Colorado.