Treatment for Concussion

Treatment for concussion usually involves rest and observation. Once the person has been examined by a qualified health care provider and more serious head injury has been ruled out, he or she should be watched closely for signs of complications, including the following:

  • Altered level of consciousness, difficulty waking
  • Changes in cognitive function (thinking) or mental state (e.g., confusion, irritability)
  • Gait disturbances
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • Unequal pupils

In mild cases, an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables may be applied—for about 20 minutes at a time every few hours for the first day—to reduce pain and swelling. Some physicians also recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin). Serious concussions may require observation in a hospital for a few hours or overnight.

Following concussion injury, follow the advice of a qualified health care provider regarding the return to participation in sports and other recreational activities. A number of assessment tools have been developed to establish return-to-play guidelines. These tools include symptom checklists, computerized testing, the Balance Error Scoring System (BESS), and the Standardized Assessment of Concussion (SAC).

Children, adolescents, and adults who suffer grade 1 or grade 2 concussions often are allowed to return once they have been symptom-free for at least 1 week. Grade 3 concussions and second head injuries require a longer recovery period (at least 2–4 weeks). Anyone who sustains a third head injury should not return to play until the following season.

Once concussion symptoms have resolved, participation in light physical activity is allowed, followed by progression to sport-specific activity, non-contact drills, contact drills, and finally game play. If symptoms return, do not proceed to the next step and contact a physician.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against products labeled as dietary supplements that claim to prevent, treat, and/or cure concussions and other head injuries. According to the FDA, there is no scientific evidence to support claims about these products, which may be sold online or in retail stores and marketed using social media. The Administration warns that dietary supplements have not been proven to reduce concussion symptoms or promote faster healing about a brain injury.

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 08 Sep 2015