If my son feels fine after suffering a concussion, can he still play?

Your son can't play until he has been cleared from the concussion by an appropriate medical provider. Clearance is very important because your son might feel like he is back to normal, but a physical exam or cognitive test may show the concussion is not healed. Laws vary by state regarding what kinds of doctors can legally clear a person before they return to playing sports.

Although how one feels is an important part of recovery, it alone should not be the criteria to allow your son to return. This is actually one of the focus points regarding concussion education. There are many factors relating to this. First of all if you go solely by an adolescent’s answer, it may not be completely truthful. He wants to play, his teammates want him to play, and you as his parent may want him to play. So will he say he feels fine when he really isn’t? Communicating with a teenager can be hard enough. It is even more difficult when health is an issue. Return to play should be determined by subjective and objective measures. First your son needs to feel fine without a headache. Then he needs a follow-up examination by a physician. A sports medicine trained physician will administer a battery of tests to evaluate recovery. These tests include cognitive thinking, reaction, and balance. Afterwards a return to play exercise program will be set up starting with light exercise and progressing in intensity. In team sports this is done in conjunction with the team’s athletic trainer. An athlete needs to pass these tests before being cleared for contact or high risk activity.

This answer provided for NATA by Tony Sutton, ATC.

Dr. Christopher C. Giza, MD

If your son feels fine after suffering a concussion it doesn't mean he can still play. After a concussion athletes may say, "I played the last five minutes of the game and I don't remember exactly what happened, but then when I went home I was having a really bad headache," or "I felt really nauseated," or "My parents or my friends noticed something was wrong." The symptoms of concussion tend to start early, but they don't necessarily start the minute of the injury. You don't have to be knocked out. It's important to remember that. It used to be thought that you only got a concussion if you were knocked out, but studies have shown that less than 10% of diagnosed concussions involve loss of consciousness. Most of the time a concussion will not be so dramatic that the athlete just lies on the ground unresponsive.

This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.