New Research Findings on Recovering from Sports-Related Concussions

Sports injuries of any kind can have an impact on learning, motivation, and mental health. A broken arm can impact writing and typing, crutches can slow down access to classes, and time lost from school for surgeries or immobilization can result in falling behind in academics. But among the most detrimental sports injuries are concussions, which can significantly impact the cognitive skills needed to think, learn, read, and remember.

Among the 30 million children and teens who participate in some form of organized sports in the United States, more than 3.5 million injuries occur each year just in kids ages 14 and younger. And while head injuries are more common in contact sports like football, hockey, and soccer, all types of sports have the potential for injury. 

The Benefits of Youth Sports

That’s not to say that parents should avoid putting their kids or teens in youth sports. In fact, research on the benefits of physical activities, teamwork, and discipline have shown that playing a sport can:

  • Build confidence and self-esteem
  • Lower the risk for anxiety and depression
  • Combat stress
  • Develop a sense of camaraderie and community
  • Improve social skills
  • Boost leadership qualities
  • Boost cognitive function and brain health

Of course, it’s not always possible to steer your kids toward low-contact sports like swimming, tennis, or baseball. But knowing that overall, participating in youth sports has more pros than cons, your best option is to take preventative measures (e.g., wearing helmets and other protective gear, following safety protocols) to reduce the chance of injuries. 

New Findings in Post-Concussion Practices

Traditionally, best practices for treating a youth concussion were to restrict physical and cognitive activities. But new findings published in the February 7, 2024 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicate that returning to school early may actually speed up recovery. The study found that recommendations of complete mental and physical rest until symptoms were resolved did little to improve functional outcomes. Worse still, the withdrawal and isolation associated with prolonged absences from school often had unintended consequences on academics, socialization, and physical recovery. (One exception was significant screen time—such as playing video games or surfing the internet—during the first week post-injury, which slowed recovery.)

According to Cognitive Psychologist Dr. Amy Moore, who was not involved in the recent study but who serves as the research director at LearningRx, these results are consistent with what she sees every day in her work with both kids and adults. “The faster we get their brains engaged after a concussion, the more quickly they progress in learning and in return to everyday activities.”

Training Cognitive Skills After a Concussion

Recovering from a concussion can be a difficult journey, especially when core brain skills—like concentration, memory, and processing speed—are affected. One program that may be able to help target and train weak cognitive skills is personal brain training (here’s a look at some of the research that backs it up).

Sometimes referred to as “one-on-one brain training” due to its trainer-to-client component, personal brain training is similar to personal training for the body, except that it aims to strengthen the mind rather than muscles.  Each center customizes plans for each client based on their history, training goals, and the results of an initial Brain Skills Assessment to measure cognitive abilities. These foundational cognitive skills include working and long-term memory, processing speed, attention, logic & reasoning, and visual and auditory processing. Working together, these skills allow our brains to acquire new information, accomplish basic tasks, solve complex problems, and process the world around us. 

If your child or teen has suffered a sports injury or concussion and you’re concerned about the impact it’s having (or could have) on school, consider scheduling a Brain Skills Assessment at your closest personal brain training center. The assessment only takes about an hour and the results will help identify which cognitive skills are strong and which can benefit from one-on-one brain training. 

Armed with insights into how your child’s brain works—such as why they perform well on certain activities but struggle with other tasks—you can decide on a plan of action to unlock their brain’s hidden potential. 

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