My child has a concussion. What is the recovery process?

A concussion is a medical event and the recovery starts at home and continues in the school setting. The recovery process includes resting the brain followed by a gradual and well-managed return to activities—learning and playing.

Children and adolescents tend to experience a longer recovery than adults. On average, an adult takes about 7 to 10 days to recover, whereas many children will take 2 to 4 weeks to heal, and most (about 85%) will fully recover within 3 months. Take your child to the doctor if you are worried that your child is not improving or their symptoms are prolonged.

The recovery process involves balancing your child’s activity level so they don’t do too much or too little. It is a fluctuating process where your child can be doing well one day but not the next.

The recovery period may be negatively influenced by many factors including:

  • Prior concussions
  • History of headaches or migraines
  • Learning disabilities
  • Mental health issues
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Return to activities too soon
  • Lack of family or social supports
  • ADHD

A Return to School protocol which monitors your child’s symptoms and addresses issues such as workload, breaks, assessment and emotional adjustment works best.

Concussion Recovery Process

The Rest Stage

The first and most important step in your child’s recovery from a concussion is rest. Your child will need both physical and cognitive rest after sustaining a concussion.

Physical rest means participation in daily life activities that do not result in an increased heart rate or breaking a sweat.

Cognitive rest means limiting activities that require concentration and learning.

The goal is to not trigger or worsen symptoms.

Once symptom-free for a 24 hour period your child can begin to add activities and focus on returning to school. Time within this stage varies with each child.

As new activity levels are introduced, symptoms could return or new symptoms could appear. This means the brain needs more time to heal. If at any point symptoms return, stop the activity and rest until symptom-free.

PHYSICAL
Restrict Activities that may be tolerated
Exercise
Sports
Riding a bike
Running
Play wrestling
Daily activities that do not increase heart rate or break a sweat.
COGNITIVE
Restrict or Limit Activities that may be tolerated
Computers
Smartphones
Video games
School work
TV
Playing music
Headphone use
Loud music
Reading
Socializing
School attendance
Driving
Work

Drawing
Playing with lego
Playing cars/trains
Baking
Talk on phone
Crafts
Basic board games
Photography

** Low Level Social Interactions (try in short periods)

Social interactions that do not cause symptoms are important in preventing social isolation or depression and anxiety. Some suggestions for low level social interactions are short conversations on the phone with friends and family or a meal with grandparents.

It is important that your child has successfully returned to school full-time before they return to sports and recreational activities. A focus on return to learn first has been shown to lead to a quicker return to play. Returning to play too early may result in a prolonged recovery.

The Return to Learn protocol can be found in the Resources section of this website.

Coping with your child’s emotions

After sustaining a concussion, your child may feel anxious, angry and sad during the recovery period. Many children worry about school and social failure.

Reassure your child that this is only a temporary situation. Talk with your child about these issues and offer encouragement and support.

For some children the emotional symptoms can interfere with their recovery. Your child may be feeling depressed or anxious due to a loss of place in school, on a team or in their social life. Depression in some children can be the result of physical changes in their brain associated with the injury itself.

If you think your child is depressed or having problems with anxiety talk to your doctor.

More information on supporting a child’s emotional well-being is available in the Resources section.

Children and adolescents take 2 to 4 weeks to heal on average