Concussions | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is a concussion diagnosed? 

There’s no way to see a concussion so, doctors look for signs of injury to brain function. The doctor will examine your child and take a full medical history. They may also check your child’s balance, coordination, and ability to think and process certain types of information. Your child may also need other tests depending on their symptoms.

What is baseline testing?

A baseline test can measure your child’s normal brain function and balance before any injury. This baseline measure can then be used as a comparison to help diagnose a concussion after an injury. For example, ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test, creates a record of a child’s physical and mental abilities. In the case of a concussion, this helps doctors track the child’s progress and back to their previous abilities.

We recommend that all student athletes, especially those who play high-impact sports like ice hockey, football, rugby and soccer, get baseline testing before the start of the season.

How are concussions treated?

The most important treatment for a concussion is physical and mental rest. This gives the body a break from moving and thinking, so the brain can heal. Depending on your child’s symptoms, they may need to stay home from school for a few days. 

Physical and mental rest includes:
getting plenty of sleep
taking a break from the computer, phone and reading
keeping stress levels low
modified or no homework
no contact or collision sports, limited physical activity and/or no gym class
for older teens, no driving or operating any type of machinery
Doing too much before the brain has fully healed can slow recovery. Your child’s doctor will tell you when it’s safe for your child to resume normal school, home and sports routines.

Returning to sports after concussion

It's very important that a child with a sports concussion not return to sports until they have regained normal brain function. A second concussion is more likely and can have a more serious long-term impact.

Returning to sports after a concussion is a gradual process that involves a series of steps. Your child’s doctor will explain the specific steps for your child’s recovery, but they usually include:

1. A period of total rest from all physical activity, until all concussion symptoms have disappeared. This may take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on your child's symptoms. 
2. Clearance to start light aerobic activity, such as walking or riding an exercise bike. 
3. Clearance to resume warm-up activities related to the child's sport (for example, jogging on a training track or swimming laps). 
4. Clearance to take part in non-contact training drills. 
5. Clearance to resume resistance training, gradually upping the level of difficulty with each session. 
6. Clearance to return to full-contact training/practice. This can only begin after your child’s doctor has deemed it safe.  
7. Clearance to take part in games or meets. 

If concussion symptoms start again, your child should see the doctor right away. They may need to go back to the previous step (or several previous steps) until the symptoms go away and the doctor gives the OK to move forward. Don’t let your child's coach, trainer or fellow athletes pressure them to returning to play too soon. 

Medication 

Although no medication can “cure” a concussion, your child's doctor may prescribe medication to manage symptoms such as headaches or trouble sleeping. If you have questions about any medication or are concerned about side effects, call or see your doctor right away.

Follow-up care after concussion 

How often your child will need to see the doctor for follow-up care depends on your child’s specific injury and symptoms. Some children need only annual check-ups, while others may require ongoing assessments and testing. Ask your doctor for a detailed follow-up plan.

What to expect after a concussion (patient education brochure)