How to Treat a Concussion: Tips for Safe Recovery

Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Powell, MS, Medical Sciences

Photo Courtesy: SDI Productions/iStock

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It usually happens when you hit your head or get hit in the head. You may have problems with different brain functions like balance, memory, focus and vision — but the effects are usually temporary. 

It’s important to see a doctor after a head injury or concussion. Your doctor can check for more serious brain injuries and other problems. If you have a mild concussion, you can take steps to treat your symptoms at home. Learn how to treat a concussion so you can recover quickly and avoid making symptoms worse.

To Treat a Concussion, Get Plenty of Rest

Physical and mental rest is the first and most important step when recovering from a concussion. For the first few days after the concussion, avoid all activities that require mental focus or physical exertion. This includes screen time (TV, computer and phone), loud music, reading, exercise and sports. It’s also important to avoid alcohol and drugs other than medicines your doctor has prescribed. 

After this period, most people can start doing activities that require mild mental effort. As symptoms improve, you can also resume light exercise and other light physical activities. Research shows that light physical activity may speed up recovery. But if any activities trigger or worsen your symptoms, stop right away and avoid them until they no longer trigger symptoms. 

Take It Easy as You Return to Normal Activities

When you start doing your normal activities again, take it slow. Stop anything that causes any concussion-related symptoms to reappear — including dizziness, blurry vision or pain. Try adding a bit of mild activity each day, and building up to more over time.

To ease back into mental activity, you can try listening to music or doing a bit of light reading. To ease back into physical activity, try taking a short walk or doing some light housework. And remember, stop the activity right away if your symptoms return.

Ask your doctor before you go back to driving or riding a bike — or any other activity that could affect the safety of other people. Return to work gradually, starting with only one to two hours a day and then slowly coming back to a full schedule.

Be Extra Careful About Concussions in Children

Children and teens have a higher risk of concussions because they’re often more active and may participate in sports. The steps for recovery are the same for children and teens as they are for adults. But it can be harder for kids and teens to stick to the recovery plan. 

Parents may pressure children to return to school too quickly after a concussion. And children often try to fill their “rest” time with mentally demanding activities, like playing video games. But returning to school and activity too quickly can slow down the healing process. To recover, kids need lots of sleep and a gradual return to school and other activities. 

If your child has a concussion, talk with their teachers and arrange a schedule that allows them to ease back into school slowly. This may include more time to complete tests and homework, if needed. If your child plays sports, it’s very important not to let them return to sports and other intense physical activities too soon. This can lead to permanent brain damage. Talk with your child’s doctor about when it’s safe for them to start playing sports again. 

Bottom Line: Rest Up to Treat a Concussion

Trying to do too much too soon — either mentally or physically — can delay recovery after a concussion. It can even lead to a worse brain injury. The key to a full recovery is rest. 

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You may be able to start doing some light mental or physical activity after a few days. But if your symptoms return, that’s a sign that your brain needs more time to heal. So give your brain the time and rest it needs, and don’t rush back into your regular activities. And remember, it’s important to always get medical care from a doctor if you think you have a concussion.

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