Teens and Concussion: More Than Meets the Eye by Phil Hossler, ATC

Sports Concussions

Sports’ popularity today means increased chance of concussion

In today’s society, sports are more popular than probably ever imagined. Large numbers of athletes participate in a variety of youth, high school, collegiate, professional, and recreational sports. As sport becomes more of a fixture in the lives of Americans, the burden of responsibility falls on the shoulders of the various organizations, coaches, parents, clinicians, officials, and researchers to provide an environment that minimizes the risk of injury.(1) Kids can suffer concussions in sports but also in activities such as bike riding, skate boarding, recess, swimming, and backyard games.

A concussion is a brain injury that results in a temporary disruption of normal brain function. In the case of teens this is a double edged sword: brain tissue that is immature and developing should not suffer a “temporary dysfunction of normal brain function.” The co-occurrence of a maturing brain and brain injury can result in unforeseen future problems in mental functioning that cannot be predicted.

We all remember how emotionally and socially challenging the teen years can be. Add to that the addition of school, reading, video games, texting, and computer time. When a teen suffers a concussion, all of these activities must be examined and curtailed so as not to impede healing. This temporary change in lifestyle can put pressure and demands on family, school, relaxation, sports, and the teen’s “me” time.

Potential difficulties after a concussion

Following a concussion, many students will have difficulty in school that may last from days to months and often involve problems with short- and long-term memory, concentration, and organization, and may result in behavioral changes, frustration, withdrawal, and unexplained anger. In many cases it is best to lessen the teen’s class load early on after the injury. This may include staying home from school for a few days while recovering, followed by a lightened schedule for a few days.(2)

The best treatment for a concussion is rest. Teens are among the group that should be managed more conservatively; brain tissue may continue to evolve and change into the mid-twenties. Decreasing the stress on the teen’s brain early after a concussion may lessen symptoms and shorten the recovery time. There are no medications that can speed the recovery from a concussion.

Exposure to loud noises, bright lights, computers, video games, television, and phones (including text messaging) all may worsen the symptoms of a concussion. When speaking with school personnel about your child, think about the noise level in hallways at school when the bell rings, the cafeteria is noisy, and gym classes are held outdoors in the bright sun. Teens should be allowed to rest as much as possible in the days following a concussion.

Points to Remember

  • Rest is paramount. Speak with your physician about keeping the teen home for the first week or so.
  • If the eyes are busy, the brain is busy. Become involved in your teen’s visual life. The brain needs simple sugars to process as well as heal. During the post-injury period, ions are actively moved across cell membranes in a process that requires fuel provided by glucose. This activity is accompanied by a narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain, which may be a protective mechanism against cerebral bleeding. Under normal circumstances there is plenty of glucose available for optimal function of both skeletal muscles and the brain, but in the post-concussion phase, the brain must have additional glucose to maximize energy availability.(3)
  • Talk with school personnel to explore accommodations that may already be in place. Return-to-learn must be preceded by a return to life. A full day of normal energy and social and family interaction must be accomplished without symptoms before the teen returns to school.
  • Athletic return-to-play is closely monitored, scrutinized, and legislated in 46 states currently. The athlete in “student-athlete” must follow a healthy student’s return to normal activities including physical education, computer time, classmates, and a full day at school before being allowed to return to sports.
  • When in doubt, sit them out. If your teen acts like something is wrong, it may be more than just being a teenager. Ask questions of friends, teachers, coaches, athletic trainers, and school nurses to uncover possible causes.
Phil Hossler, athletic trainer

Phil Hossler, athletic trainer



Phil Hossler is a certified athletic trainer at a large high  school in New Jersey. He is the author of five books and 36 professional articles on athletic healthcare topics.






  1. K Guskiewicz; S Bruce†; R Cantu; M Ferrara; J Kelly; M McCrea; M Putukian; T Valovich McLeod. National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Management of Sport Related Concussion. Journal of Athletic Training 2004;39(3):280–297
  2. Concussion in Sports- What you Need to Know- National Federation of State High School Associations. nfhs.org
  3. Dr. Steven P. Broglio. What Happens Next? Training & Conditioning. 20.06 September 2010


Special Collection on Brain Injury Journey Vol 1

Special Collection on Brain Injury Journey Vol 1

This article is posted with permission from

Brain Injury Journey – Hope, Help, Healing, Vol 1, 2014.


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