Concussions in Kids and Teens

Concussions in kids and teens are a serious concern, and understanding the signs, treatment, and prevention is crucial for ensuring their long-term health and well-being. Here’s what you need to know about concussions, how they can be missed, and how to support your child’s healing process.

Recognizing Concussions: Easy to Miss Signs

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury that can occur from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. The signs of a concussion can be subtle and easily missed, especially in children and teens who may not fully understand or communicate their symptoms.

Common Signs Include:

  • Headache or Pressure: Persistent headaches or a feeling of pressure in the head.
  • Dizziness or Balance Issues: Difficulty standing or walking straight.
  • Nausea or Vomiting: Feeling sick or actually vomiting.
  • Sensitivity to Light or Noise: Increased sensitivity to bright lights or loud sounds.
  • Behavioral Changes: Irritability, sadness, or unusual emotional responses.
  • Cognitive Impairment: Trouble concentrating, remembering, or confusion.

Behavioral Changes Post-Concussion

Behavioral changes can be one of the most telling signs of a concussion. Parents may notice their child:

  • Becoming More Irritable: Increased frustration or irritability over minor issues.
  • Exhibiting Mood Swings: Rapid changes in mood or unexplained sadness.
  • Struggling Academically: Decline in school performance or difficulty with homework.
  • Sleeping Patterns Altered: Sleeping more than usual or trouble falling asleep.

Healing Post Concussion

Healing from a concussion benefits from a comprehensive approach that prioritizes rest and reduced screen time and can be supported further by incorporating therapies like massage, chiropractic care, and frequency-specific microcurrent treatments.

Rest and Reduced Screen Time: The Most Important Factors

Rest is paramount in the healing process of a concussion. This includes both physical rest and cognitive rest, meaning reduced screen time and avoidance of activities that require intense concentration. In our experience, no other interventions can offset the need for rest and reduced screen time.

  • Physical Rest: Helps maintain lower intracranial pressure and prevents further injury, allowing the brain to heal.
  • Cognitive Rest: Reduces the workload on the brain, minimizing symptoms like headaches and cognitive fatigue.

Ignoring the need for rest and reduced screen time can significantly prolong the recovery process, much more than most people realize.

Additional Supportive Therapies

While rest and reduced screen time are critical, additional therapies can also play a vital role in relieving symptoms and supporting recovery.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can help alleviate muscle tension and reduce stress, common issues after a concussion. Neuromuscular therapy can be particularly effective in reducing headaches, which are extremely common and can lead to moodiness and sleep difficulties. Additionally, by promoting better sleep and relaxation, massage therapy can play a productive role in aiding overall recovery.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care can address spinal misalignments that may result from the injury, helping to reduce pain, improve mobility, and enhance overall comfort. This support can also improve sleep and aid in overall recovery. 

More importantly, chiropractic care provides crucial support for the nervous system. Following a concussion, it is common for the autonomic nervous system to be damaged or disrupted, leading to an overactive sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight” mode. By helping to rebalance the nervous system, chiropractic care can support a kid or teen’s ability to adhere to downtime and follow the recommended recovery plan.  

Frequency-Specific Microcurrent (FSM)

FSM is a treatment that uses low-level electrical currents to target specific tissues in the body. It can be particularly beneficial for reducing inflammation and pain, supporting cellular repair and recovery, and enhancing nervous system recovery after a concussion.

Commitment to Healing: Supporting Your Child’s Recovery from a Concussion

Healing from a concussion often takes longer than expected. It can be challenging to commit to the extended period of rest required, but it’s essential for a full recovery. This process becomes even more difficult once the initial fatigue from the injury has subsided. At this stage, the body may feel more energetic than is healthy to expend. This is particularly true for kids who are accustomed to being physically active. They may become restless, bored, and frustrated by the necessary downtime.

Your support and at-home care management are crucial to their recovery, as they may not yet fully understand the importance of a complete and thorough healing process. Here are some ways to support complete healing:

  • Monitoring Symptoms: Keep track of any changes in symptoms and progress.
  • Providing a Restful Environment: Limit screen time, ensure a quiet space, and encourage relaxation.
  • Gradual Return to Activities: Follow a healthcare provider’s plan for slowly resuming school and physical activities. Plan on it being slower than your child feels like they can handle. Keep it gradual anyway.
  • Regular Check-Ins: Communicate with your child about how they feel and any symptoms they experience.
  • Encourage Patience: Help your child understand the importance of taking the time needed to fully recover.
  • Proactively Plan Allowed Activities: Planning energy-rest cycles throughout the day can often allow parents to prevent or reduce negative behaviors associated with their child’s limited physical activity. This might involve a slow-paced 15-20 minute walk followed by a quiet rest period, then a board game or card game, and another rest period. The goal is to help them manage their energy waves with calmer, structured activities. 

By staying informed and proactive, parents can play a crucial role in supporting their child’s health and well-being, ensuring a safer and healthier future.

Dangers of Repeat Concussions

The brain is an intricate organ, and its healing process is not as straightforward as that of other body parts. It involves not just physical repair but also functional recovery, which includes cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects. Each concussion can compound the effects of previous ones, potentially leading to more severe symptoms and longer recovery times. This cumulative effect can also increase the risk of long-term complications. Multiple concussions can lead to:

  • Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE): A degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
  • Long-term Cognitive Impairment: Persistent problems with memory, concentration, and executive function.
  • Increased Vulnerability: Higher likelihood of suffering another concussion with less force.

Given the unique and compounding nature of concussions, proper management and a thorough recovery process are crucial.

Advances in Screening and Treatment

Over the past couple of decades, concussion screening and treatment have significantly improved. Modern diagnostic tools, such as computerized cognitive tests, provide a clearer picture of brain function after injury. Treatments now emphasize the importance of individualized care plans, including physical and cognitive rest, gradual return to activities, and ongoing monitoring.

Baseline Testing: One critical advancement is baseline testing, which measures an individual’s normal brain function before any injury occurs. This proactive approach ensures that if a concussion occurs, there’s a clear reference point to aid in diagnosis and treatment. Baseline tests are inexpensive and widely available through local medical providers or you can purchase an online test like ImPACT Concussion.

Given the rapid changes in children’s brains as they grow, we recommend annual baseline testing for all kids, typically at the beginning of a school year. For kids and teens involved in sports, we feel strongly that an annual baseline test is an absolute must! 

Final Thoughts

Concussions are a serious concern for kids and teens, but with proper recognition and treatment, the risks can be managed effectively. By staying informed and proactive, parents can support their children’s health and well-being, ensuring a safer and healthier future. For more information on concussions and baseline testing, visit ImPACT Concussion. If you have any questions or need further guidance, please reach out to us. We’re here to help you and your family navigate this important aspect of health.