Children want to get back to living (and playing) as soon as possible after a concussion. It’s relatively well known that time and rest for the brain are needed to safely recover. What may be less well known are the effects this type of injury can have on a child’s overall health and wellness. Acknowledging and addressing these concerns is crucial to a timely recovery.
How does a concussion affect overall health?
Concussion is a form of mild brain injury. It’s similar to more severe brain injuries as it is an impairment to the brain’s function, but it is usually temporary and most recover quickly.
Though they’re considered mild, and typically these injuries aren’t even visible on x-rays or scans, the effects can be serious. A concussion affects the wellness of the child because it’s the type of injury that can affect areas of life we take for granted but are very important to our health: sleep, nutrition, balance, emotions and exercise.
What wellness issues need to be considered in concussion recovery?
Sleep disruption: Changes in sleep quality and quantity can occur with a concussion and need to be considered in treatment. This would include a new difficulty in falling asleep, or not feeling rested when awakened.
Appetite changes: Not feeling well in general post-concussion can lead to a decreased appetite. Also, foods that are higher in sugar or caffeine may be sought out more in an effort to “feel more awake” or “increase focus.” These nutritional choices can be less helpful in recovery.
Hydration: Having enough fluid in the body to keep the basic muscle and body functions is a treatment component to address as some children who are dehydrated can have headaches or “not feel well” and these overlap with symptoms of a concussion.
Emotional effects: Mood changes often occur with a concussive injury. Being familiar with a child’s typical emotional state can help parents and professionals identify these changes and the type of support needed to reassure the child and family.
Lack of exercise: Exercise IS important in the wellness of the child. Exercise is not only physical, but academic, and this is one reason why returning a child to cognitive (learning) activity is important and comes before their return to strenuous physical activity. However, the research highlights the importance of including movement activity in the treatment plan. Light activity and exercise focusing on subthreshold activities (activities that don’t increase symptoms but encourage the body’s need for movement) should be incorporated early on in the concussion-recovery process and guided by concussion/brain injury specialists. These types of activities help with many aspects of recovery from concussion.
What type of specialists can help?
Understanding the effect of sleep, nutrition, hydration, allowable exercise and the emotions of fear, anxiety and depression that may accompany being injured are part of the specialized skills held by concussion and brain injury program physicians. We can assist you and your child in navigating to the right care at the right time and limiting the disruption of education and activity. We also have expertise in determining when both the academic and the physical activity can be safely advanced.
We value your child’s return to life and the intricate components of work/play/school/community. We can engage further specialists and treatment programs to provide a coordinated, best-practice approach to concussion recovery.
Are there specific concerns/considerations for student athletes?
Often concussions are seen in sports activities and the additional pressure of returning to play can become the focus for many, however, earlier light activity—not complete rest—is the most often engaged-in treatment plan. Athletes, and all children, must have their learning skills and motor/balance control recovered before considering return to full skilled activity. That is why an integrated team can assist with physician-led treatment and coordination to return your athlete/student/child to the activities that make their life full.
–Dr. Katherine Dec, sports medicine physician specialist
Decoding concussion: Answering parents’ FAQs has more on recognizing the signs of a concussion and how to help.
Call 804-628-4878 if you suspect your child has a concussion. In case of emergency, call 911.