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How Do I Know if My Child has a Concussion?

A physical therapist examining a student athlete for concussion symptoms.

If you’ve ever tuned into healthcare or sports podcasts, caught highlights on SportsCenter, or attended a pre-season briefing for your child’s sport, you’ve probably heard the word concussion. Concussions have become a popular topic and research priority in recent years because of the long-term consequences they can have on children engaged in competitive sports. Parents often feel increasingly nervous as they watch from the sidelines during each game. Uncertainty about concussions, including their symptoms, treatment, and prevention, contributes to these worries. Here’s everything you need to know about concussions. 


A concussion is a type of brain injury that occurs when the brain experiences a sudden jolt or impact. This can happen due to a blow to the head, a fall, or any other force that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth inside the skull. Concussions are commonly associated with sports injuries, but they can also occur in various other situations, such as car accidents or falls. A concussion can damage brain cells and disrupt the release of chemicals and hormones in the brain. These changes can lead to physical, cognitive, and emotional effects that may occur within seconds, minutes, or hours after the injury. 


While concussions are usually not life-threatening, the effects of a concussion can be serious. It’s crucial to recognize the signs of a concussion and seek appropriate medical attention, as untreated concussions can have long-term consequences and increase the risk of future injuries. 


To recognize a possible concussion, parents should watch for any change in their child’s behavior, thinking, and/or physical functioning associated with a collision, fall, or forceful movement of the head. 

Recognizable Concussion Symptoms: 

  • Appears dazed, stunned, or moves clumsily
  • Vomiting
  • Confused following instructions  
  • More emotional/irritable 
  • Sleeping more than usual 
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Trouble reading or completing homework 
  • No recollection before/after hit/fall 
  • Complains of noises, lights, or sunlight 

Concussion Symptoms Described: 

  • Headache or pressure in the head 
  • Nausea 
  • Double or blurry vision 
  • Sensitive to lights or noises 
  • Dizziness, clumsiness, sleepiness 
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, groggy 
  • Attention or concentration problems 
  • Confusion or memory loss 
  • Just doesn’t feel right 


  • Neck pain with limited mobility 
  • Loss of or fluctuating level of consciousness 
  • Increasing confusion 
  • Increasing irritability 
  • Numbness in the arms or legs 
  • Pupils becoming unequal in size 
  • Repeated vomiting 
  • Seizures 
  • Slurred speech or inability to speak 
  • Inability to speak 
  • Inability to recognize people or places 
  • Worsening headache 


One in five student-athletes will experience a concussion, 33 percent of whom report two or more within a year. Those who promptly seek active recovery are seven times more likely to return to their sport and classroom within four weeks. 

If you suspect that your child or teen has a concussion, it’s essential to seek medical attention promptly. Contact their healthcare provider for further evaluation and care. 


Recovering from a concussion involves allowing the brain time to heal and gradually returning to normal activities. Initially, it’s essential to rest both physically and mentally to minimize symptoms and aid recovery. As symptoms improve, gradually reintroduce light activities, such as walking or reading, while closely monitoring for any signs of worsening symptoms. Avoid activities that could potentially worsen the concussion, such as contact sports or activities requiring intense concentration. Here are four key steps to help facilitate recovery: 

  • Rest: Ensure your child or teen gets plenty of rest, both physically and mentally, to allow the brain to heal. 
  • Monitor Symptoms: Keep track of symptoms and seek medical attention if they worsen or new symptoms arise.  
    • Ask your child’s doctor or nurse about safe over-the-counter or prescription medications to help with symptoms (e.g., Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for headaches).  
    • Limit the number of soft drinks or caffeinated items to help your child rest. 
  • Gradual Return to Activity: Gradually reintroduce light physical and mental activities as symptoms improve, avoiding activities that could pose a risk of re-injury. 
  • Follow Medical Advice: Adhere to any treatment plans or recommendations provided by healthcare professionals, including follow-up appointments and cognitive testing.

Early Active Recovery through Physical Therapy Reduces the Risk of:

  • Depression 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Migraines 
  • Poor vasoreactivity 
  • Prolonged symptoms associated with rest 


The best way to prevent concussions depends upon the specific sport being played. For sports that require helmets, like football, make sure they are worn 100 percent of the time while playing. Some players wear helmets that are not properly sized, and this can decrease the helmet’s effectiveness at preventing concussions. In fact, only around 15 to 20 percent of sports participants use helmets that fit properly. Helmets should be new or recently refurbished. 

While playing, it is important that you do everything possible to avoid head contact with other players. Rules for fair play and safety should always be enforced, and aggressive behavior should not be tolerated.  Head-first contact is not only intensely painful, but it can also be a significant contributing factor to concussions. Wearing a mouth guard and strengthening neck and shoulder muscles may also help decrease the chances of concussion.  

Proper playing techniques are always important when it comes to any sport. If all the rules are followed and safety concerns are respected, the risk of concussion will naturally be significantly lower than it would otherwise be. If you suspect an athlete may have a concussion, remove them from play and have them seen by the team’s athletic trainer or closest healthcare provider. Allowing a player back into the game before their injury is completely healed could have lifelong effects on the brain. 


If you suspect that your child has a concussion, it is pivotal they are examined by a physician and physical therapist who is familiar with treating concussions to optimize recovery. If you are unsure, contact your local PT solutions clinic to schedule an appointment. Your child’s health is our priority.