Concussion? Know When to Return to School

Help your child understand when it’s safe to go back

Boy sleeping at desk in classroom

After suffering from a concussion, many young athletes are eager to know: “When can I get back on the field or court?”

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But their return to school – often taken for granted – is only the first step to getting back to everyday life. For a child or a teen with a concussion, healing enough to go back to school can take longer than you might think.

“If you wake up with a headache or other concussion symptoms, don’t go to school in the morning,” says pediatrician Richard So, MD. “Maybe in the afternoon, if you feel better.”

Along with headache and sensitivity to light and sound, concussion symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Pressure in the head
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • A feeling of being in a fog
  • Sleep issues – either sleeping too much or not being able to sleep

Why it’s important to be cautious

“You can cause problems by sending a child back to school too early after a concussion,” Dr. So says. “The injured brain won’t learn, and an injured student will be bothered by bright lights and loud noises,” he adds.

The good news is that if patients do the right things, they can be back in action fairly quickly.

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“If a patient complies with their doctor’s recommendations for physical and cognitive rest, he or she usually can be back to normal in seven to 10 days. But healing can take weeks or months if they don’t follow their doctors’ directions,” he adds.

This is because the brain heals faster when it is not active. For patients with concussions, resting doesn’t mean resting on the couch, but it includes cognitive rest.

Cognitive rest means no:

  • Video games
  • Television
  • Reading
  • Studying

Challenges in getting needed rest

For some “Type A” students who are involved in multiple activities at school, cognitive compliance can be a challenge. Pressure from teachers or other authority figures to resume normal activities contributes to the difficulty in convincing students to slow down.

“Teachers, especially those who may not have played sports, may not fully recognize the student’s medical condition,” Dr. So says.

“While a student is recovering from a mild traumatic brain injury, we don’t want them to take quizzes or tests or work on big projects. And they may require pre-printed notes for classes, since the up-and-down eye movement from blackboard to desk can aggravate symptoms,” he adds.

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It takes a lot of communication between teachers, parents, athletic trainers and school nurses to develop understanding around a student’s slow-paced return to normal academic activities.

“It’s important to remember this is a medical condition,” he says, “And you only have one brain.”

More information

Free online concussion course for youth and parents

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