Rest is the key to concussion recovery. It is difficult to estimate how long it will take a patient to recover because there is no clear-cut way to determine the severity of the concussion.
Below are guidelines for concussion recovery. Once the concussion symptoms go away, a patient may slowly and carefully resume normal daily activities.
Avoid high-risk activities. Patients should not return to high risk activities (e.g., sports, physical education (PE), high speed activity (riding a bicycle or rollercoaster), if any post-concussion symptoms are present. Other safety considerations while symptomatic include: driving, bike riding, heavy lifting, working with machinery, and heights due to the risk of dizziness, balance problems.
Limit physical activity. Patients should limit their exercise and physical labor during recovery. Once a patient has recovered, he or she should gradually return to physical activity. A person should stop exercising if he or she gets a headache, feels nauseous or experiences other symptoms.
Rest the brain. Academics, work, and social activities—even reading a book or playing video games—can be taxing to the brain. Cognitive activities should be limited during the recovery period.
Sleep. Adequate sleep is critical to recovery. Patients who experience significant daytime fatigue should rest or take a nap.
Medications. Patients should talk to their doctor about any medications they take during recovery. The following substances can impair brain function and prolong recovery:
- Certain types of painkillers and anti-anxiety medications
- Prescription sleep aids (melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement, is recommended to patients having trouble sleeping)
- Alcohol and marijuana
Patients dealing with chronic headaches, pain or insomnia should consult their doctor, who can determine the safest treatment plan.
Nutrition. There is limited evidence that certain foods—particularly foods that contain Omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon and fortified eggs, or Omega 3 supplements—may promote brain health and healing.3
If symptoms remain steady or worsen after 3 to 5 days, then a referral to a specialist is warranted.
Consulting concussion specialists
If a patient does not recover from a concussion within a matter of days then he or she is advised to consult a specialist. A concussion specialist can further evaluate the patient and make recommendations regarding treatment and recovery, including how to manage return to sports, school, and work.
Learn More: What Is a Concussion Specialist?
A concussion specialist may work individually or with a team of medical professionals. In recent years, several multidisciplinary sports concussion centers have opened up around the U.S. These centers incorporate many specialists into one clinic (physical therapist, neuropsychologist, sports medicine physicians, neurologists, etc). Neuropsychological tests may also be helpful for determining the appropriate timing for return to safe sports participation, school, or work.