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How to Safely Return to Sports After a Concussion

Returning to sports after experiencing a concussion requires careful consideration and a structured approach to ensure the athlete’s safety and well-being. At Revivo, our Toronto-based physiotherapy and neurology clinic, we emphasize the importance of a gradual and monitored return to athletic activities following a concussion. This post outlines key steps and considerations for athletes, coaches, and healthcare providers to facilitate a safe return to sports post-concussion, reflecting best practices in concussion management.

Understanding the Risks

Returning to sports too soon after a concussion can significantly increase the risk of a second concussion and potentially lead to more severe brain injuries or prolonged recovery times. It’s crucial to fully recover from the initial concussion before resuming any sports activities to protect brain health.

Step 1: Complete Rest and Recovery

The initial step in concussion recovery involves a period of physical and cognitive rest. Athletes should avoid any activity that exacerbates symptoms, including physical exertion and activities that require concentration. This rest period allows the brain to heal and symptoms to subside.

Step 2: Medical Clearance

Before beginning the process of returning to sports, obtaining medical clearance from a healthcare professional experienced in concussion management is essential. This assessment ensures that the athlete has adequately recovered and is ready to start a gradual return to activity.

Step 3: Gradual Return-to-Play Protocol

A stepwise return-to-play (RTP) protocol is recommended to safely reintegrate athletes into sports. This protocol typically includes several stages, beginning with light aerobic exercise and progressively increasing in intensity and complexity, provided no symptoms recur at each stage. The stages are:

  1. Light Aerobic Exercise: Activities like walking or stationary cycling at a low intensity to increase the heart rate without risking further injury.
  2. Moderate Exercise: More strenuous activities, still non-contact, to increase heart rate further and incorporate some strength training.
  3. Non-Contact Training Drills: Sport-specific exercises that do not involve risk of head impact. This may include passing drills in football or shooting drills in basketball.
  4. Full Contact Practice: After receiving medical clearance, athletes can participate in normal training activities to restore confidence and coaching staff can assess functional skills.
  5. Return to Competition: Once the athlete has completed the above steps without experiencing any symptoms, they can return to game play.

Monitoring Symptoms

Throughout the RTP process, athletes, coaches, and healthcare providers must closely monitor for any recurrence of concussion symptoms. If symptoms reappear at any stage, the athlete should return to the previous step where symptoms were not present, or pause their return to play and consult with a healthcare provider.

Education and Communication

Educating athletes, parents, coaches, and sports staff about concussion symptoms, risks, and the importance of reporting injuries is crucial. Open communication about symptoms and concerns should be encouraged without fear of repercussions.

Conclusion

A cautious and methodical approach to returning to sports after a concussion is critical to ensure the safety and long-term health of athletes. At Revivo, we support athletes through every step of their recovery and return-to-play process, providing guidance, rehabilitation services, and ongoing support to ensure a safe and successful return to sports. By following these steps and maintaining open communication with healthcare professionals, athletes can minimize their risk of further injury and enjoy a healthy and active return to their sport.

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