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Concussion (Mild traumatic brain injury)

What is a concussion?

A concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury causing a temporary loss of normal brain function. Usually, but not always, a blow to the head or body is the cause and there may or may not be loss of consciousness. A concussion cannot be seen on an x-ray or CAT scan. It is diagnosed based on symptoms that can show up right after the injury or may not appear or be noticed until hours or days later.

What are the symptoms?

Your child may have one or more of the following symptoms. Having more than one symptom does not mean that the concussion is more severe.

Thinking/Remembering Physical Emotional Sleep 
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Feeling more slowed down
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy
  • Asking the same question over and over
  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Fatigue or feeling tired
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Does not “feel right”
  • Slurred speech
  • Irritable
  • Sad
  • More emotional than usual
  • Nervous
  • Quiet
  • Drowsy
  • Sleeps less than usual
  • Sleeps more than usual
  • Has trouble falling asleep

Symptoms in infants and toddlers

  • Young children might not be able to tell you how they feel. In addition to the symptoms listed above, look for:
  • Swelling of the scalp or soft spot.
  • Listlessness (child feels "floppy" in your arms and doesn't play or grab objects).
  • Your child cries more than usual and cannot be consoled.
  • Refuses to eat or nurse.
  • Changes in play or loss of interest in favorite activities.
  • Loss of new skills, such as walking or toilet training.

When should I call the doctor?

  • Headache not relieved with rest or medication.
  • Worsening symptoms or new symptoms.
  • Vomiting that keeps happening.
  • Your child is so sleepy that you are having difficulty waking him or her up.
  • If your child's symptoms do not improve within 10 days of the injury.

How should I care for my child?

Your child should follow-up with his/her primary care doctor or the concussion clinic within 1-3 days of their injury.

The most important care for a concussion is to rest both the body and the brain during the first 7-10 days.

Your health care provider will give you rest recommendations which may include:

The Body The Brain

No strenuous activity that includes:

  • Contact activity
  • Activities that increase the heart rate, such as running, biking, skate boarding, street hockey
  • Sports
  • Excessive walking
  • Physical education (PE) class or recess
  • Weight training
  • Chores that result in sweating or exertion

No added stress to the brain that includes:

  • School or work
  • Studying
  • Homework
  • Reading
  • Driving
  • Television
  • Video games
  • Computer
  • Texting


Everyday activities such as bathing and dressing are OK. Encourage rest and sleep for the first few days. If your child does something during the 7-10 days that brings on symptoms, stop the activity immediately and avoid it until the end of the time period.
It is very important that your child is honest about symptoms during this stage of recovery. Not reporting symptoms or pushing through symptoms that are worsening will likely slow healing or make symptoms worse.

Infants and toddlers

It is harder to get infants and toddlers to rest and do quiet activities. Try putting your infant or toddler in a large crib or playpen with favorite toys. Avoid activities that get your child overly excited.

When can my child go back to normal activities?

  • When concussion symptoms have lessened and are tolerable for up to 30-45 minutes, a child should return to school. This will usually happen with a few days to the first week of the concussion. It is not necessary for a child to be 100% symptom-free before returning to school.
  • Do not return to sports, physical education (PE) class, dance, or physical play at recess until cleared by a doctor.

What else do I need to know?

It is important to decrease the chance of your child injuring his head again in the first 1-3 months following a concussion. A second concussion can cause serious problems.

If your child is being seen in Children's Concussion Clinic, a physical therapy evaluation and a graded return to sport/play program will be provided, along with other rehabilitation referrals as needed. Before fully participating in sports, your child will have to pass a final exertion/balance test and proceed through a graded return to play regimen. Average time from injury to return to play varies between 2 to 6 weeks.

Will my child have trouble in school?

Tell your child's teacher about the concussion. Students who return to school may need to:

  • Take rest breaks as needed.
  • Spend fewer hours at school.
  • Receive help with or less school work.
  • Be given more time to take tests or complete assignments.
  • Have less time on the computer, reading or writing.

How can a concussion be prevented?

  • Use a child safety seat, booster or seat belt.
  • Use protective equipment, make sure it fits properly, and follow safety rules.
  • Keep stairs clear of clutter.
  • Install window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows.
  • Place safety gates at the top/bottom of stairs for young children.
  • Secure rugs and use rubber mats in bathtubs.
  • Play on surfaces made out of shock absorbing material.


This sheet is not specific to your child, but provides general information. If you have questions, call your clinic.

More resources:

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
2525 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Last Reviewed 7/2015 © Copyright

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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