Concussion Follow-up

Updated: Jan 06, 2023
  • Author: David T Bernhardt, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
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Return to Play

Return-to-play criteria are controversial. Similar to classification guidelines, several different guidelines regarding return to play have been established. No scientific evidence exists to justify one criterion versus another criterion. The main criteria for an athlete's return to play include complete clearing of all symptoms, complete return of all memory and concentration, and no symptoms after provocative testing. Provocative testing includes jogging, sprinting, sit-ups, or push-ups—in other words, some type of exercise that raises the athlete's blood pressure and heart rate.

The rules are the same for athletes who have a concussion that prohibits return to play during competition. Only after all symptoms have cleared both at rest and with exertion should an athlete even consider returning to practice or competition. In addition, the athlete has to show complete resolution of any emotional lability, mood disturbance, attention, or concentration difficulty. Relatively minor concussions may have more prolonged neurologic deficits. Therefore, the most important aspect of all published guidelines is the concept of an athlete not being allowed to return to play until he/she is completely asymptomatic.

A study of high school concussion patients reports that most assessments are performed by athletic trainers and the timing of return to play was similar whether the decision was made by a physician or an athletic trainer. [21]

In 2010, the AAN issued a brief position statement on sports concussion, recommending caution and protection first. If an athlete is suspected of having a concussion or closed head injury, then first remove the athlete from practice or competition, and do not allow return to play until he or she is evaluated by a physician with experience in treating concussions and cleared for return. Further recommendations are available in the 2013 AAN guidelines on evaluation and management of sports concussion. [13]



Injury prevention methods are currently being studied. In the past, rule changes that barred spearing in football and teaching football players not to lead with their head have significantly reduced the frequency of severe head injuries in American football.

Equipment and environmental changes can also prevent injury. Soccer goals must be anchored to the ground because many deaths secondary to head injury in soccer have been the direct result of a goal tipping over onto a player.

There is controversy regarding possible helmet wearing in soccer. Although helmets have been shown to clearly reduce the risk of head injury in recreational bicycle riding, no clear evidence exists that the type of headgear proposed for youth soccer will prevent acute or chronic head injury among soccer players. [26] Long-term studies that examine soccer players over time and that compare the players to themselves in a longitudinal fashion have not been completed. Thus far, studies that suggest long-term damage from heading have been methodologically flawed by comparing soccer players to other athletes, and these studies have not been able to distinguish heading from previous concussions. Most concussions in soccer are the result of direct contact rather than heading of the ball.

Even if helmets are used, no guarantee exists that they will necessarily fit. Studies of football helmet use in high school have demonstrated that only 15% of the helmets fit properly. [27] Further documentation of the possible increase in the risk of head injury associated with poor helmet fit has not been completed.

Although mouth guards have been advocated for injury prevention purposes, no controlled study has proven their usefulness in concussion prevention.



It is important to educate allied health professionals, coaches, families, and athletes about the recognition and acute management of a concussion, the difficulties involved with a concussion, the difficulty in managing and treating concussions, and the subtle problems with long-term complications. Understanding and recognition of these issues by all of the above may help to prevent recurrent concussion problems. Inexperienced healthcare providers may want to use some type of published guideline when initially managing these injuries.