Back in the Game After a Concussion

Athletes recovering from concussions had reduced balance and cognition after returning to play

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) While a concussion is often considered a relatively minor brain injury, the impact my be felt for yours. For athletes, it’s important to take the time needed to fully recover before returning to play.

A recent study found that athletes recovering from a concussion had a regression in physical ability and brain function after returning to play. 

The study was written by Li-Shan Chou, PhD, and professor of physiology at the University of Oregon in Eugene, and colleagues. Returning to play appeared to slow recovery, the authors noted.

“There had been a continuous improvement prior to the athletes’ return to activity,” Dr. Chou said. But, after they returned, “We saw a turn in their recovery in the opposite direction,” he said.

"Consult a sports specialist after an injury."

The research team set out to examine how returning to sports after a concussion affected recovery. A concussion is a brain injury marked by short-term loss of brain function following head trauma.

The research team studied 19 adolescents who had concussions and returned to play within two months of their injuries.

The study authors examined the participants five different times following their injuries. They tested the patients' balance by asking them to walk and simultaneously complete a simple oral test, such as identifying whether a word was spoken in a high- or low-pitched tone.

Of the 19 athletes, 12 had more trouble with balancing or walking during the dual-task test than a group of athletes who did not have concussions. Of those 12, 10 had returned to play within a month of their injuries.

"I always leave the decision up to the athlete's doctor but I believe in the athlete needing to be healthy before returning to play," said Jim Crowell, head coach at Optimum Performance Training in Scottsdale, Arizona.

"With concussions I have noticed that on some occasions, when athletes challenge their central nervous systems too early, they see symptoms last longer. I always like to very slowly work an athlete back from a concussion to allow them to understand how their body and how their brain react to light and easy training. As they show positive results, then we build their program back to where it previously was and then higher as they continue to progress," Crowell told dailyRx News.

"I believe that this strategy is a good one for the athletes in their sport as well because it gives them touches on the field of play but doesn't overly stress their system," Crowell said. "If they look and feel great then they can add volume and intensity. I do not have a specific time frame because every athlete and every situation is different. I've had great success when I wait for the doctor to clear the athlete and then I slowly start them back and monitor their progress aggressively."

The study by Dr. Chou and team was published Aug. 20 in the peer-reviewed journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

The Veterans Administration, Peace Health Oregon Region and the University of Oregon funded the research. The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 25, 2014
Last Updated:
December 28, 2014