Experts at Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute Recommend Important Steps for Safe Return to Sports after Concussion

September 8, 2021

By following step-by-step progression of activity with medical guidance, athletes can safely get off sidelines and back in the game after concussion

Sports medicine and rehabilitation experts at Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s  Concussion Program recommend a specific protocol for athletes to return safely to sports after sustaining a concussion, a brain injury caused by a blow to the head or violent shaking of the head or body.

There are more than 3 million cases of concussion in the US each year. Symptoms of concussion may include headache, confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, ringing in the ears, excessive fatigue and sleepiness.

“Whether you’re an elite or recreational athlete, it can be tough to watch from the sidelines while you heal after a concussion,” said Christine Greiss, D.O., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and director of the Concussion Program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. “Taking time off from your sport, however, is critical to recovery. Returning to competition too soon can have serious consequences.”

Dr. Greiss and her team recommend a specific protocol to ensure that athletes are ready to return to post-concussion play.

A concussion can cause a range of cognitive symptoms, including problems with memory, attention, concentration and processing information. Dr. Greiss says that following emergency medical care, a neuropsychological evaluation is done to assess cognitive recovery.

“After one to three days of rest, we advise that patients slowly resume normal activities. We also carefully assess each athlete’s physical, cognitive and mental readiness before returning them to play and then ask patients to follow a series of important steps,” says Dr. Greiss.

“Before having them return to their sport, we make sure our patients are at baseline with their day-to-day non-sports activity,” comments Dr. Greiss. “They should have the same grades or work performance, and be able to engage in the same amount of social activity, reading, and studying as they did before their injury.”

Dr. Greiss says that patients also need to demonstrate improvement in mental health symptoms as well, including mood or coping disorders and sleep disturbances. Other symptoms, such as difficulty with social interaction or headaches caused by exertion, can also lead to symptoms of depression or anxiety.

“The brain is the maestro of the body, and when it is injured, it goes into alert,” says Dr. Greiss. “This can induce an anxious state, so we follow up with patients every two weeks to make sure these symptoms are improving.”

For more information on recognizing the symptoms of a concussion, click here.