children playing football

Pediatric concussion specialists in Denver

Concussion recovery can be complicated. Our concussion experts in the Denver area at Rocky Mountain Pediatric OrthoONE Center for Concussion perform detailed evaluations to confirm diagnosis and prescribe medical care. Our psychologists communicate with your child’s school to support their academic adjustments and will help with the stress, anxiety and/ or sadness that they might feel as a result of their condition.

Our concussion rehabilitation program, “PACER,” has physical therapists who are experts at treating the complications that may develop from a concussion. All of us here at the Center for Concussion stay up-to-date with current treatments and often update our treatment program based on new medical findings.

Roadmap to concussion recovery

Concussions are one of the most common injuries in kids and teens. You can get a concussion from head contact while playing sports, being in a car accident or experiencing other physically traumatic event s to the head . It is important for every parent and athlete to know how to recognize a concussion and how to help recover from a concussion.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury that happens when you get hit in the head or the body or experience extreme whiplash that shak es the brain. You won’t see any bruising or bleeding, but the concussion hurts the brain and makes it work differently. Because the brain is such a complicated organ, every concussion can be different.

Recognizing a concussion

Be aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion. We recommend your child see a concussion specialist if you notice your child is displaying any of the following signs or is experiencing any of the noted symptoms below. Different types of signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:

Physical signs and symptoms:

  • Headache or head pressure
  • Balance changes
  • Dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Seeing “stars”
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and/or noise
  • Looking glassy-eyed or dazed

Emotional signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling sad, irritable or depressed
  • Feeling nervous or anxious
  • Feeling more emotional
  • Personality change
  • Inappropriate emotions

Cognitive signs and symptoms:

  • Mentally foggy
  • Feeling slowed down or off
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Easily distracted
  • Repetitive comments or questions
  • Speech slowed or having difficulty using the right word
  • Seeming confused or disoriented

Sleep or energy signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Drowsy
  • Sleeping more or less than usual

Concussion testing

Although diagnostic imaging technologies, such as CT and MRI scans, can offer insight into whether a patient is suffering from bleeding or bruising in the brain, they cannot determine if a concussion is present. T he pediatric psychologists and concussion specialists at our facilities are specialized in performing the computer-applied ImPACT baseline testing . They will examine your child’s results and be able to diagnose your child with a potential concussion and determine their susceptibility to future concussions.

Concussion recovery

Everyone is different, and recovery can vary for different people. Most adults will recover in about ten days. However, teens’ brains aren’t fully developed and take longer to recover — on average three to four weeks — and studies have n’t been able to determine the average concussion recovery for younger kids, but they may last longer than adults.

Almost everyone will fully recover after a concussion, but some people might have a longer recovery or may have permanent problems from a concussion.

Patients who keep getting concussions, have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning difficulties, experience migraine headaches or have anxiety and/or depression may take longer to recover from a concussion.

Steps for a successful concussion recovery

The Center for Concussion recommends children follow a variety of methods to help aid in their recovery, including:

Rest

Relaxing just after the injury helps, but you don’t have to shut yourself in a dark room. As soon as your child feels a little better, they can be up and about, spending time with friends and family. Have them listen to their body and take rest breaks whenever needed.

School

It’s important for your child to try and get back to school as soon as possible, so they don’t miss too much and get back into their regular routine. Talk to their school nurse, psychologist, counselor and/or teachers so that they are aware your child is dealing with a concussion and can give academic support if needed.

Electronic screens

The screens on electronics may make concussion symptoms worse, notably eye tracking issues. Look to limit or avoid time spent on smart phones, computers and video games.

Sleep

Good sleep is essential to helping the brain heal. Many patients have sleep problems when they are recovering from a concussion. It is okay to sleep whenever your body is telling you to sleep for the first few days. However, it’s important to get on a regular sleep schedule after the initial few days . We recommend aiming to stop daytime naps after the first week.

Exercise

After resting for a few days, it can help to start some safe, light cardiovascular exercise. Work with your child’s medical provider to decide when to start exercise and what level of intensity workouts should be.

Social activities

A s symptoms begin to improve, connecting with friends socially can be important. For younger kids, this needs to be closely supervised and cut off if symptoms get worse. For older kids, it’s better to talk or have short visits with friends in person rather than spend a lot of time on the phone or texting.

Hoping is coping

When children are recovering from a concussion, they can feel frustrated because there are restrictions from normal daily living such as playing sports or recreational activities. Remember, almost all concussions will heal. Having the mindset of “I’m getting better” can be a powerful way of getting through the concussion recovery and has been shown to be very helpful in managing a concussion.

Nutrition and hydration

The brain functions its best when it has the right fuel. Drink lots of water and avoid caffeinated and sugary beverages, like soda. Maintain a healthy diet and don ’t consume processed and/or fast food. Healthy eating assists in a good recovery.

It is important that pediatric patients not diagnose nor create their own treatment plans, more often seen in teens than in younger children. It is extremely important to avoid alcohol or drugs of any kind, including marijuana, as these substances can cause cognitive problems and disrupt concussion recovery.

Getting cleared for sports

Partnered with OrthoONE’s orthopedic doctors at our sports medicine department, we clear athletes from their concussion, which means that a medical provider needs to perform an examination to make sure that the concussion has healed. Currently, the only way physicians can tell if the concussion has healed is by looking at three things: symptoms not being present, a physical exam (balance, eye movements and coordination) and confirming normal cognitive function.

It could be very dangerous to return to sports too soon as the brain could be more susceptible to further injury . A second injury when still recovering from a concussion can cause symptoms to worsen and will most likely make the concussion last longer. It could also increase the chance of having permanent problems , such as chronic headaches, learning and memory difficulty, anxiety and depression and /or other neurological problems.

The quickest way to get back to regular sporting activity is to be honest about symptoms, take time to recover and see a qualified medical provider to get cleared from the concussion.

Graduated return to sports steps

The Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport recommends that athletes go through several exercise challenges to make sure the brain has healed before returning to sports. Your medical provider will determine when to start this process and what to do for each step. This process usually takes about four days for adults, but typically lasts longer in younger kids and teens. In our clinic, we will sometimes also use a treadmill test to help us figure out if the concussion has healed.

Athletic trainers

Certified athletic trainers at your child’s school are medical providers who are trained to recognize sports related injuries and help with recovery. Make sure you meet with your child’s athletic trainer and work with them during the recovery period. Athletic trainers might not be able to clear your child from their concussion, but they are a good resource as eyes and ears for your child while they are at school.

Sports and concussion risk

Kids who participate in sports grow up to be healthier adults. Our goal at Rocky Mountain Pediatric OrthoONE Center for Concussion is to keep kids safely playing sports. However, there are times when we have to admit that a certain sport may be too dangerous for someone because of the injuries they have had. There are no strict rules about when to retire an athlete from a sport because of concussion, but we have discussions about playing sports with every athlete whom we see for a concussion so they are aware of their potential risk.