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Teen Health

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Concussion Recovery Might Reverse After Doing This

Expert and researcher say the findings highlight need for slow return to playing field


According to the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), more than 1 million athletes in the United States suffer a concussion each year.

Concussion symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, ringing in the ears, fatigue and confusion -- though these problems may not become noticeable until hours after the jolt to the head. And contrary to popular belief, concussions usually do not cause unconsciousness.

When athletes are recovering from a concussion, the "standard of care" is to gradually return them to physical activity before they can get back on the field, Podell said.

In fact, all 50 states and the District of Columbia now have some kind of law on youth concussions, protecting athletes from returning to the playing fields too soon.

But there is no "set timeline" for safe return to play, according to the AAN. And judging recovery is subjective, Chou said, because it involves asking patients how they feel.

The current findings are based on 19 high school athletes who were periodically assessed for two months after sustaining a concussion. All returned to physical activity, with medical clearance, during that time.

Chou's team found that once they were active again, 12 of the athletes showed some reversal in their ability to walk and perform mental tasks simultaneously. The problem showed up as a subtle change in their walking speed or balance.

Still, Podell said, it's not clear what to make of that. Even if the athletes' gait did regress when they first started physical activity, it might have been "fine" by the time they got back into their sport, he noted.

"The take-away for parents is, the return from concussion is complex, and the best clinical practice calls for a slow and gradual return to activity under the guidance of professionals," Podell said.

But it's not only physical activity that matters, he added. Concussed kids should also take a break from mental stress and only gradually return to schoolwork.

"Just because a student-athlete is ready to exercise does not mean they are 100-percent ready for a full load at school," Podell said.

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