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Head injury – returning to sport fact sheet

Head injury – returning to sport

After a head injury, your child may wish to return to sport and physical activity as soon as possible. It is important to ensure the return to sport is done safely and in a gradual manner. Always ask the rehabilitation team or consult your doctor for help making decisions regarding return to recreational activities.

Repeated injuries

Recurrent head injuries (even mild ones) are more likely to lead to long-term problems in concentration, memory and learning. Returning to sport and activity too early may place your child at greater risk of repeated injury.

Factors to consider

When a child can safely return to sport depends on many factors including:

  • Age, previous medical history or learning problems
  • Type and severity of head injury
  • Problems or impairments from the injury such as:
    • muscle weakness or tightness
    • coordination and balance
    • vision and visual perception
    • judgement and impulsiveness
    • fatigue — physical and mental
  • Type of sport and risk for further injury:
    • lower risk activities—walking, jogging, supervised swimming, yoga, non-contact martial arts.
    • higher risk activities—contact sports (rugby, AFL, soccer, netball, basketball) and high speed activities (trampolining, skateboarding, motorbike riding).
    • Remember that team sports can become more competitive with age and may pose a greater risk of further If in doubt please ask your doctor and treating team.

When can my child return to sport?

For mild head injuries

For children with mild head injuries (concussion, brief loss of consciousness, brief loss of memory after the accident, uncomplicated skull fracture) we recommend the following:

  • Return to non-contact and low-risk activities only when symptoms (such as headache and fatigue) have settled.
  • Take normal safety precautions (i.e. wearing helmets).
  • Children should not return to sports until they have successfully returned to school.
  • Contact sports should be avoided after a head injury until given clearance by your doctor.

Refer to the below table to guide your child’s safe return to sport once all symptoms have cleared. Once your child is fit to start sport again, return should be gradual. Each stage should take at least 24 hours.

Gradual return

  • Day 1 – Light aerobic exercise — walking, supervised swimming, exercise bikes. No resistance training.
  • Day 2 – Basic sports exercises—running drills, ball skills. No activities that could involve head impact.
  • Day 3 – Non-contact training drills — passing drills, progressive resistance training.
  • Day 4 – Full-contact practice — normal training activities.
  • Day 5 – Return to play — back to normal game play.

Note: If symptoms recur at any stage, return to the previous step.

For severe head injuries

For children who have suffered a more severe head injury we recommend a longer period away from activities that place a child at risk.

Contact us

Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
Level 6, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 2950
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
f: 07 3068 3909

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Resource No: FS063. Developed by the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service, Children’s Health Queensland. Updated: February 2015. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.