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Student Athlete Acute Concussions

What to do...

...We are sorry that you or another may have sustained a concussion and understand the concern you may be experiencing. Be assured that most athletes recover fully in the initial weeks following a concussion, although a minority may experience more persistent symptoms.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that affects brain function. Concussions are typically caused by a blow to the head or body that causes a force to be transmitted to the brain.  Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches, a feeling of pressure in the head, sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, and problems with concentration, memory, balance, coordination and sleep. Some concussions cause a loss of consciousness, but most do not. It is possible to have a concussion and not realize it. The most important step in concussion management is removing the athlete from play and the risk of a repeat and potentially more serious brain injury while the brain is still trying to recover. Athletes with a history of concussion are at increased risk of another concussion.

It is important to see a health care provider skilled in concussion management if the athlete experiences a head injury, even if emergency care is not required. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you call the physician for anything more than a light bump on the head. If the athlete doesn’t have signs of a serious head injury, remains alert, moves normally and responds to you; the injury probably does not require emergency care. In this case, the athlete wants to nap, it’s OK to let him or her sleep. If worrisome signs develop later, seek emergency care. Seek emergency care for an adult or child who experiences a head injury and symptoms such as:

  • Repeated vomiting
  • A loss of consciousness lasting longer than 30 seconds
  • A headache that gets worse over time
  • Changes in behavior, such as irritability or agitation
  • Changes in physical coordination, such as stumbling or clumsiness
  • Confusion or disorientation, such as forgetfulness for recent events, difficulty recognizing people or places
  • Slurred speech or other changes in speech
  • Seizures

Mental and physical rest is recommended for the first one to three days following a concussion followed by a gradual return to normal daily activities. This may mean limiting screen time, physical and mental activity, and time spent in bright or noisy environments. Activities may initially be tried for just several minutes at a time. If an activity causes symptoms to develop or worsen, take a break from that activity. However, total rest or sensory isolation is not ideal and may prolong recovery.  Completely removing oneself from social and physical activity for extended periods can worsen some symptoms and prolong or prevent a complete recovery.

The athlete's health care provider or school personnel can assist in guiding the student-athlete through the return-to-learn process.  Students may briefly need to take time off of school following a concussion. Once they can tolerate an hour or more of homework without worsening symptoms, they may be ready to return to school with a modified schedule and/or accommodations. Temporary school adjustments may include things such as:

  • Shortened school day or modified schedule
  • Replacing gym class, band, or other specials with a rest break or study period
  • Modifying recess, passing periods, or schedules to avoid activities or environments that may put the student at risk of repeat injury or worsen symptoms
  • Avoiding or limiting tests during the first 1-2 weeks following a concussion
  • Additional time and reduced distractions for tests and assignments
  • Obtaining copies of the lecture outlines or another student’s notes
  • Reducing screen time by printing materials or using audiobooks
  • Reduced homework
  • Rest breaks during the school day
  • Allowing the student to go to the nurse’s office to rest if symptoms worsen
  • Allowing hats, sunglasses or earplugs if noise or light sensitivity worsens symptoms

A student athlete’s first job is school, so they should be fully returned to normal schooling before being fulled returned to contact sports.

For further information, we invite you to read our Frequently Ask Questions and watch videos in our Concussion Video Library.


Mayo Clinic Concussion Team