When Can I Return to My Sport After a Concussion?

Jan 08, 2024
Football player
Sports related concussions are a common problem among athletes and it's important to make sure the return to activity is done safely. This post discusses what a safe recovery and return to sport looks like for athletes.

A sports related concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury caused by a direct blow to the head, neck or body that transmits a force to the brain during sports or exercise. This injury causes chemical changes in the brain that can lead to certain recognizable signs and symptoms. Symptoms of a concussion may include headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, memory loss, mood changes, and sensitivity to light and noise among others. These symptoms may occur immediately or may develop over the course of minutes, hours or days. A concussion can affect an athlete’s cognitive, physical, and emotional functioning.

If you think you may have sustained a concussion, the most important step is to remove yourself from the game and seek a medical evaluation. Continuing  to play with a concussion could lead to a prolonged recovery or in rare cases severe brain injury.

If you have been diagnosed with a concussion your sports medicine physician will lay out a plan for your recovery including your return to school, work and sports. Recovery time from a concussion varies from person to person and depends on several factors, such as the severity of your symptoms, the number of previous concussions, and age among others. While the majority of concussions resolve within a few weeks,  some people may recover in a few days, while others may take months.

There are several factors that are involved in determining if you are safe to return to sports following a concussion including participation and performance in school and/or work, whether or not you’re still experiencing concussion symptoms and if you have any signs of ongoing concussion when you are examined by your physician during your follow-up visits.

Once you are cleared to begin your return, it is recommended that you complete a six step return to play progression to ensure your symptoms don’t come back as your activity level increases. The return to play protocol, which was developed by an international group of concussion experts, consists of the steps outlined below. Each step is typically done in a 24 hour window and if your symptoms return during this process then you will go back to a prior step and try again.

  1. Symptom limited activity: This could include daily walks or similar light activity that does not cause worsening of symptoms.
  2. Light to moderate aerobic exercise: This could include riding a stationary bike or walking at a brisk pace. This could also include some light resistance training. The goal here is to monitor how you are feeling as your heart rate increases.
  3. Individual sport specific exercise: This includes individual sport specific training drills with no risk of contact or head impact like sprinting and cutting. The goal with this step is to monitor your symptoms when adding in change of direction and movement of the body and head.
  4. Noncontact training drills: High intensity exercise with more intense training drills which can be done with teammates such as passing drills. The goal of the step is to get back to the typical higher intensity exercise needed to participate in your sport.
  5. Full contact practice: This includes full training participation.  The goal of this step is to assure no return of symptoms when getting back to full function.
  6. Return to sport: The final step of the progression is a full return to your sport at pre-injury level.

In order to safely and successfully return to sports following a concussion, it is important to follow the plan set out by your sports medicine physician including completing the return to play progression.

A+ Athlete Sports Medicine physicians compassionately welcome new and existing patients to the practice. Our patients visit us from throughout central New Jersey. Our Robbinsville office is conveniently located for those from Robbinsville, Hamilton, East Windsor, West Windsor, Plainsboro, Allentown, Cream Ridge, Jackson, Bordentown, Burlington Township, Lawrence Township, Ewing Township and more. Our Neptune Township location is conveniently located for those from Neptune Township, Asbury Park, Wall Township, Ocean Township, Belmar, Point Pleasant, Tinton Falls, Long Branch, Manasquan, Brick Township, Toms River and many more. To schedule an appointment at A+ Athlete Sports Medicine, call the office or use the online booking feature today.



  1. Patricios JS, Schneider KJ, Dvorak J, et al. Consensus statement on concussion in sport: the 6th International Conference on Concussion in Sport–Amsterdam, October 2022 British Journal of Sports Medicine 2023;57:695-711.