What Influences Recovery Time After a Concussion?

Tyler Schwarz, ATC, LAT, Agnesian HealthCare Sports & Spine Center
Boy with head injury

As an athletic trainer that deals with high school athletes  and concussions, I will get a lot of questions about why did Johnny take three weeks to recover from his concussion when it only took Jacob 10 days, or “I will be back in a week right, because that’s how long it took Marisa to get back.”  Well the answer to those questions is not a simple yes or no. People need to look at concussions and brains like snowflakes.  No two snowflakes are the same, just as no two brains are the same, so that means no two concussions are the same.

There are many factors that can influence recovery time from a concussion. These can be things you can control like following restrictions, getting enough sleep and proper nutrition. Or they can be factors that are out of your control like age, sex, family health history, concussion history, concussion severity and what part of the brain the injury occurred in. It is this factors that make recovery time different for each person. Let’s take a look at some of these factors that are out of your control.

Age – Studies have shown that unlike with most injuries, younger athletes actually take longer to recover from a concussion than older athletes. Pediatric and adolescent athletes are going to take longer than adult athletes. This is because these pediatric and adolescent athletes still have developing brains. Research has found that the brain is not fully developed until age 25. So that means that when a youth, high school or college athlete gets a concussion there brain is still actively developing. We know that an active brain takes longer to heal itself, because it is taking the oxygen and other stuff the brain needs to repair itself to continue to develop the brain.

Sex – This is a factor that has been researched some and the results show that there really is no difference in recovery time or return to play time. But, they have found that girls do report more and higher symptoms than males do. This is both at baseline and after sustaining a concussion. What they report for symptoms is different too. Girls have a tendency to report more somatic (migraine) and emotional symptoms. So why it appears that girls would take longer to recover is because they report having more symptoms and higher symptoms score, in actuality boys and girls recover at a similar rate. 

Concussion History – An athlete that has had a concussion and gets another concussion will take longer to recover with each ensuing concussion they get.   

So while concussions may appear to be treated similarly with common restrictions, in actuality they cannot be treated the same and have to be looked at individually. There are common restrictions due to the factors we can control, like mental and physical rest, stress, sleep, etc. Those factors that we can’t control are the ones which decide how an athlete reacts and recovers from a concussion differently. So remember just like no two snowflakes look the same, no two concussions are the same.

If you think you, someone you know or your son or daughter may have the following symptoms or a concussion, contact an athletic trainer or your healthcare provider and get looked at.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Balance issues or dizziness
  • Double or fuzzy vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish or “in a fog”
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Concentration or memory concerns
  • Forgets instructions
  • Can’t remember plays
  • Doesn’t know what happened

Post Concussion Symptoms

  • Chronic headaches and/or headaches that increase throughout the day
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Personality changes (e.g. increased irritability, emotionality)
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Dizziness when standing quickly
  • Deficits in short-term memory, problem solving and general academic functioning

Who can I see to manage a concussion?

We have a team of physicians, nurse practitioners and athletic trainers that have specialty training in concussion management. 

Fond du Lac Regional Clinic - Fond du Lac

  • Dr. Lisa Weber – Family Medicine                          (920) 926-8200
  • Dr. Gina Everson – Family Medicine                      (920) 926-8200
  • Kasandra Flasch, APNP  – Family Medicine           (920) 926-8200

Fond du Lac Regional Clinic – West

  • Julie Schneider, APNP - Family Medicine                         (920) 929-7490
  • Deborah Vande Zande, APNP - Family Medicine             (920) 929-7490

Fond du Lac Regional Clinic – Mayville

  • Dr. Beth Collister - Family Medicine                                   (920) 387-7500

Fond du Lac Regional Clinic – Ripon

  • Michell Pascarella, APNP - Family Medicine                     (920) 745-3180
  • Dr. Jeanne Lyke - Pediatrics                                                (920) 745-3180

Fond du Lac Regional Clinic – Waupun

  • Dr. Robert Nagle - Family Medicine                                      (920) 324-6800

Fond du Lac Regional Clinic – Markesan

  • Amanda Dickerson, APNP - Family Medicine                      (920) 398-2406

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