As warm weather sports are heating up and ready to start their competitive seasons, physiotherapists will inevitably start to see a new block of young athletes who have sustained a concussion. The goal with every young athlete, regardless of skill level is to get them back to school, and back to their sport as quickly and effectively as we can. You know the old adage – it takes a village to raise a child? Well it can also take one to get an athlete back to school and play.
Part 1: The Athlete
Depending on the level of play, age, and skill, some kids are highly motivated to get themselves back out to their sport, while some may be hesitant or fearful to step back on the field of play after a concussion.
Here are the top tips/strategies to help a young athlete gain confidence back after a concussion:
Be honest and up front about ANY symptoms following a possible concussion: Some of the athletes are scared to tell their coaches and parents about how they were feeling because they didn’t want to be out of the game, or were afraid people would be disappointed with them. The most important thing is early identification. The sooner the injury is identified, the sooner steps can be taken to get better and back at school/play.
Ditch the “no pain, no gain” attitude: Many athletes believe they can work their way through a concussion, just like they do through practice or other aches and pains. The harder you push a concussion, the harder it will push back. Following a guided/structured rehabilitation program that manages symptoms while increasing activity is a safe and effective way to overcome this injury.
Stay connected with friends and teammates: Many young athletes feel so isolated from their teammates and friends while recovering from a concussion. It can be frustrating to not only be unable to play, but to be limited from social interaction. Stay in touch with friends and teammates as much as you can – whether its phone calls, short visits, or when you’re ready, the use of technology to stay connected, Remaining engaged with friends/teammates improves mood, and provides added incentive to keep working through the process.
Don’t get discouraged: Ideally a concussion can resolve in as little as one week, but for those whose symptoms may linger, try to stay positive and encouraged through the rehab process. If you start to feel yourself getting down, be sure to speak to your parents, coaches and health care providers about it.
Pace yourself: Slow and steady is going to win this race. Make a schedule for your day, don’t try to push and do too much all at once, and make sure to take rest breaks. What many young athletes find is that if they can get their symptoms under control with active rest, they can steadily increase their daily loads and get back to the game.
Study your game: In the early stages of your rehab, you may not be able to be as physically active as you’d like and participate in practices, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep working on your sport. Ask the coach for plays, scenarios, or “chalk talk” situations and work on those as you return to learning. It keeps you engaged in the game and can be an enjoyable activity as a part of your rehab.
Communication is key: Communicate honestly and often with your parents, healthcare providers and coaches so everyone knows how you are feeling, and what progress you are making. When everyone is in the loop, regular adjustments can be made to your care to help ensure ongoing improvement.
These are just a few tips to help through the rehabilitation process. Next, we will take a look at some strategies/tips for parents to help support their young athlete through recovery.