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Return-to-Learn Recovery Time Gives Brain Time to Heal After Concussion

It may be obvious that your child needs to take a break from sports and other strenuous physical activity following a concussion. It’s just as important that they take a break from cognitive activity as well. Dr. Erin Swanson

“A concussion is a brain injury, and the brain needs time to heal,” said Dr. Erin Swanson, assistant professor, UAB Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine. Swanson sees patients at the Concussion Clinic at Children’s of Alabama. This clinic is staffed by skilled athletic trainers, nurses and physicians from Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine and Sports Medicine with support from Neurosurgery, Emergency Medicine and Neuropsychology. These specialists work together to optimize the management of children and adolescents who have suffered a concussion.

Cognitive rest means a break from school, a reduced amount of homework and reading and screen time. These are all activities that could exacerbate concussion symptoms. Concussion symptoms typically include headaches, confusion, nausea, dizziness and blurred vision. Most symptoms subside within a few days to a week, but could linger for much longer, Swanson said.

“For children still experiencing concussion symptoms it’s important not to go back full-force and instead make a gradual return to school,” Swanson said. “Some children need to return to classes initially for half days, then pacing forward to full days will help the recovery process.”

Swanson said your child should avoid activities that trigger concussion symptoms. Activities such as concentrating in a classroom or taking tests could be hard for your child following a concussion. And once back at school, your child may need to take small breaks throughout the day if any of the symptoms return.

And while there are laws that address a student-athlete’s return-to-play following a concussion, return-to-learn has its place in the recovery plan too. “We need to remember that they are students first,” Swanson said.

Although each child’s concussion recovery will be different, Swanson said there are some general guidelines for parents. “You don’t need to put your child in a bubble or isolate them in a dark room, but you want to help them avoid anything that makes the symptoms worse,” she said.

She recommends these tips:

  • Limit screen time to a maximum of one hour per day. This applies to TV, computers, tablets, cell phones and video games.
  • Keep things low key around the house. Now may not be the time to attend events with loud noises or bright lights.
  • Your child may benefit from more sleep than usual in the early recovery stages. You don’t need to wake your child, but check on him/her to ensure he/she is responsive and breathing normally.

Swanson said research about concussions continues to evolve, and doctors are still learning new information about how to help patients recover from their concussions. Some of that information will be shared during the third annual Concussion Summit on Friday, April 15 at Children’s. Hosted by UAB Sports Medicine at Children’s and the Wise Up! Initiative, the day-long conference is open to the public and will include presentations targeting coaches, athletic directors and trainers, school leaders and nurses and parents.

For more information about the Concussion Clinic at Children’s of Alabama or to register for the Concussion Summit, visit http://www.childrensal.org/concussion.

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