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Full 'Cognitive Rest' a Key Factor in Recovering from Concussions

When a Nebraska high school student suffered a concussion playing football this fall, there was good news. His school had taken the latest concussion research seriously and had a plan in place for assessing his readiness to return to sports. Unfortunately, there was no plan to assess his readiness to return to the classroom without risking further injury to his brain.

He was given a math test only six days later. He failed — and he may have significantly extended his recovery time or even suffered further damage.

“Your brain is on crutches, yet you’re being asked to do math problems and read English literature,” his sympathetic athletic trainer told the frustrated boy.

After any brain injury, including a concussion, experts emphasize the brain’s need for rest and recovery just like any other part of the body. Yet school districts across the nation lack policies allowing students to take time off from school to rest their brains.

When concussion sufferers take on too much cognitive activity too soon, their symptoms can worsen to a disabling point — blurred vision, severe headaches and difficulty concentrating. The injury can also sap their motivation and make them impulsive and irritable — adding stress that can further damage the brain.

Unfortunately, most school policies don’t allow enough time off. To change that, workable plan fair to all stakeholders would have to be developed, and buy-in from school administrators and potentially state boards of education would be required.

“It’s an area that’s really been overlooked,” said a University of Nebraska sports medicine educator. “People are realizing you can’t just suck it up and sit through math class when your head hurts so much you can’t see or think.”

In Nebraska, a state task force is in the process of implementing guidelines meant to help schools assess the readiness of kids with concussions to return to active learning. The task force says recovery should begin at home and continue until a doctor says it’s OK to go back to class. Then, students should be eased back into class work in stages, with frequent breaks, less homework and shorter or segmented exams. Finally, teachers should offer to help.

This is a great start toward helping kids recover better after concussions, and other states should follow suit.

Source:, “As with sports, easing back into classwork after a concussion is vital,” Henry J. Cordes, The World-Herald, Oct. 29, 2013