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Three Tips to Speed Up Your Return to the Ice

By Minnesota Hockey, 12/10/13, 10:00AM CST

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As with many injuries, the first question players usually ask when dealing with a concussion is, ‘When can I play again?’  The bad news is there is no definitive timetable and players can miss extended periods of time. The good news is most are back in a couple of weeks and the difference is usually up to you. 

How can you increase the chances of a quick recovery?  The key to that is proper diagnosis and a treatment plan, which involves following three main guidelines:

  1. Remove the player from activity if there is suspicion of a concussion.
  2. Visit a certified health care professional, preferably one with expertise in handling brain injuries.
  3. Allow the brain to fully recover through adequate rest before starting the return to play protocol. 

Players, parents and coaches play a critical role in the first step as it is up to them to recognize when a player may have sustained a concussion and remove him or her from play.  Signs and symptoms are typically good indicators that an injury has occurred, but they aren’t always the most reliable.  They can take as much as 48 hours to appear after the impact, and in some cases, they never materialize.

If you have any concerns or notice the signs and symptoms, it is time to seek out qualified medical care.

“The most important step in diagnosis of concussions is a comparison to a baseline test,” says Sara Oxborough, Director of Physical Therapy at National Dizzy and Balance Center.  “You can’t judge just by the presence or absence symptoms because they can lie.  For proper diagnosis, you need objective measures to look at the cognitive and balance aspects, not just the physical side.”

“Kids should have their cognitive & balance abilities at 100% before returning to any physical activity. That is the only way to judge whether the brain is fully healed right now. If one of the test results are low or signs and symptoms continue to appear, your body is saying the brain isn’t healed yet.”

By examining both the cognitive and balance aspects of recovery, medical professionals are able to devise an individualized treatment plan.  The foundation of each of those plans is ensuring kids get enough rest to allow the brain to recover.  While this sounds simple, it can involve more strict guidelines than you may predict.

“In many instances, the cognitive side can be more important than the physical side,” said Oxborough. “That means kids may need to refrain from activities like school.”

Other examples of potentially harmful activities include video games and watching TV. These behaviors stress the brain in ways that are counterproductive and may be off limits depending on the severity of the injury.

Once players regain their normal levels of functioning, they can start the return to play protocol.  It is important to continue to consult your medical professional through that process as cognitive abilities need to be monitored as you gradually increase the amount of physical activity. 

The importance of following these steps properly cannot be stressed enough as observing them typically makes a huge difference when it comes to recovery time.

“Most kids are better in 7-10 days,” said Oxborough. “Those with long therapy due to a post-concussive state are usually ones that didn’t do the right thing in the beginning. I’ve seen so many kids that miss six months that would give anything to only miss two weeks.”

Next time your child or one of their teammates suffers a potential concussion, speed up their recovery by these three steps. Remove them from play. Consult a medical professional and ensure he or she gets the right amount of rest.

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