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Returning To School After a Concussion


By Tricia Walker, ATC

When an athlete has suffered a concussion, the first thing that the athlete is thinking about is when they will be able to play his or her sport again. Returning to school is an activity that is usually looked past because in the athlete’s mind, school shouldn’t cause them any problem. When we evaluate the athlete after their injury, we get a better understanding of their symptoms and what causes those specific symptoms to elevate. The majority of the time, school activity is a large contributing factor. With all concussion cases that we treat, the first goal of recovery is decreasing the athlete’s symptoms to a manageable level. Once this has been met, we will begin the return to learn process.

There are different return to learn protocols that differ from state to state and organization to organization. For the most part, they all take a modified school day approach that evolves, as symptoms allow, back to the normal, non-modified school day. Depending on the severity of the concussion and the symptoms, these modified school days can range from one class a day, to an on-off approach throughout the day. The on-off approach will consist of a balanced combination of in-classroom time and being in a quiet, dark environment like a nurse’s office or in the counselor’s office. The school nurse and school administrators will determine this location so that the student-athlete can properly adapt his or her school day as symptoms allow. When the student-athlete has progressed to a longer day, this dark environment may also be necessary after taking a test or anytime they have had to focus for an extended period of time. The student-athlete may need a little time to bring the brain function down to a manageable symptom level before returning to class.


Every concussion is different, so there isn’t really a cookie cutter approach to returning to learn. The Athletic Trainer at LSTC, athlete, parents, teachers, counselors, and school administrators will discuss and determine a plan to modify the athlete’s school day according to their specific concussion symptoms. Here are some ways concussion symptoms can impact a student’s school day:


  • Can distract from concentration
  • Can vary throughout the day and be triggered by various exposures such as noise, lighting, or focusing


  • May make walking in crowded environments challenging
  • Often provoked by visual stimulus (rapid movements, videos, …)

Visual Symptoms (light sensitivity, blurry vision)

  • Trouble with various aspects of school building
    • Lighting, smart boards, computers, movies, slide presentations
  • Difficulty reading and note taking
  • Difficulty paying attention to visual tasks

Noise Sensitivity

  • Trouble with various aspects of school building
    • Physical education classes, lunchroom, hallways, shop class, music class, sports

Difficulty Concentrating/Remembering

  • Difficulty recalling and applying previously learned material
  • Lack of focus in the classroom
  • Trouble with test taking
  • Trouble with note taking

Sleep Disturbances

  • Excessive fatigue resulting in lack of focus and ability to recall information
  • Can lead to tardiness or absences
  • Lack of sleep at night could lead to sleeping during class

Once the athlete has fully returned to school with no modifications, the return to play process can begin. We want to ensure that the athlete is able to function cognitively fully before adding back in other stimuli, such as physical training, practice, and sport competition.

Click HERE to learn more about our Concussion Management Program. Don’t let a concussion sideline you from what you love. Call Loudoun Sports Therapy Center TODAY at 703-450-4300.

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