How is a concussion treated?

You need physical and mental rest to recover from a concussion. Although you’ll need more rest and sleep than normal, you don’t need 100% complete rest. In fact, research has shown that too much mental rest can actually lengthen the recovery period and make you more sensitive to activities when you return to them.

Instead of stopping activities entirely, learn to recognize the triggers that bring on concussion symptoms. Start back slowly, in small amounts. When symptoms occur, back off and rest. It’s okay to do some of the activities that don’t make you feel worse. Limit any activities that worsen your symptoms.

For example, activities that may bring on symptoms include:

  • Texting/spending time looking at your smartphone screen.
  • Reading.
  • Watching television.
  • Playing video games.
  • Listening to loud music.
  • Doing any physical activity.

As your symptoms improve, you can continue to add more of your activities back into your day.

Can pain medications be taken for the headache symptom of concussion?

Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as naproxen (Aleve®) and ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) should not be taken soon after a suspected concussion has occurred. These medications mask symptoms and thin the blood, which may increase the risk of bleeding. This is of special concern in elderly who fall and hit their head, as it’s not uncommon for these people to already be taking these drugs. After a concussion is diagnosed, if pain medication is needed, acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is a safer option. Symptoms need to be monitored closely.

Does diet play any role in recovery from a concussion?

There’s not much information about concussion and diet in the medical literature. There is some on nutrition and general brain health and well-being in the elderly. Some of the more researched supplements on diet include fish oils, turmeric, green tea extract and resveratrol. Any supplements taken should be in addition to a well-balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat and processed foods.

One thing to consider is that a concussed person may not feel as hungry or thirsty as before. Make sure to encourage eating throughout the day to keep blood sugar up and to try and drink six 8 oz. glasses of fluid (water, juice, Gatorade®) throughout the day. The brain is sensitive to low blood sugar and dehydration and these conditions can mimic or worsen concussion symptoms like headache, dizziness, fogginess, stomachache and irritability.

What’s a typical recovery plan for students who have experienced a concussion?

It’s important to know that recovery plans need to be individualized for each person. Your concussion specialist or family doctor can assist in creating this individualized plan and providing it to the student so they can share with the school.

At first students may need to miss several days of school for symptoms to calm down. Once the student can manage their symptoms at home in a controlled environment, they should gradually add some mental work like reading or writing in journal. If they can perform an hour of mental activity at home without worsening symptoms, they can try to return to school.

Students should not return to school for half days. Rather, they should try to complete as many classes as concussion symptoms allow each day. This may require getting more rest each day. Students should not set an alarm clock but wake when their body and brain are ready and then, if symptoms allow it, go to school. If the student gets symptoms during the school day, they should go to an agreed upon location, such as the nurse’s office or counselor’s office, and rest before returning to class. Should the student's symptoms result in them spending more time in the space designated for rest and recovery than in class, the student should consider going home.

Parents should work with teachers, school nurses, counselors or psychologists to make other adjustments in their school day. For example, students may:

  • Need more time to do assignments or take a test.
  • Need to have a reduced amount of schoolwork.
  • Need to take extra breaks in and out of class.
  • Need to have another student take notes for them.
  • Need to use an electronic device to record lectures for review later.
  • Need to leave the classroom early to avoid crowded hallways if they have a balance problems.

If symptoms get worse or problems that had resolved come back, cut back again and rest. Let concussion symptoms be your guide to your own recovery timeline.

How long does it take for a person to recover from a concussion?

Each concussion in each person is somewhat unique and so is their recovery timetable. In general though, most concussion symptoms resolve within 14 to 21 days. However, undiagnosed, unrecognized or poorly treated concussions can delay your recovery – increasing it from the typical two weeks to months or even longer.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a concussion and concussion symptoms are still present after 14 days or symptoms worsen, see a healthcare professional who specializes in concussion management.

What is concussion protocol?

Concussion protocol is an organization’s set of policies and procedures for caring for someone who has had a head injury. Even though concussions aren’t limited to sports, concussion protocol is most often associated with sports-related head injury.

The people involved in making sure the concussion protocol is followed include trained healthcare providers with knowledge of concussion care, athletic trainers, school nurse/counselor/teachers, rehabilitation specialists and parents.

A concussion protocol includes such information as:

  • Education on concussion definition, signs and symptoms, and management.
  • Pre-season baseline brain function test (ImPACT test or equivalent) of reaction time, memory, speed of mental processing and other factors per individual player.
  • State law criteria for removing a player from activity.
  • Sideline assessment of the head injury (includes comparison to pre-season ImPACT test or equivalent baseline results).
  • School adjustments (shorter days, more breaks, extra time to finish assignments, etc.) during recovery.
  • Gradual return to activity via a gradual process of small increases in activity.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/02/2020.


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