Brainstorming: Knowing when it’s safe to return to athletic activity

Colleen Butler Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Colleen Butler, author of “Concussion Recovery: Rebuilding the Injured Brain,” is offering 0725brainpractical advice to help with the recovery from brain injury.

We hope you find this Q&A helpful, and we look forward to hearing from you. If you have a question or comment, we want to hear from you at

Hi, my 13-year-old son had a concussion, during a hockey camp. He’s a goalie and got two pucks to the head, two slap shots one after the other. He appears to be OK now and is ready to go back on the ice, but I’m concerned about future slap shots to the head. We bought him a new goalie mask. My question is how and when do we know he has healed and can take to the ice? — Jack

Hi Jack,

Thank you for your inquiry. It is difficult to say if your son is ready to return to play, each concussion is different. There are no tests that can detect a concussion or any one recipe for recovery. You are a wise parent to be questioning.

The return-to-play guidelines only touch on such a small part of the side affects of a concussion. They leave many areas unaddressed, such as emotional stability, sleep patterns, sensitivity to white noise, etc.

One of the problems with youth concussion is the amount of fluid surrounding the brain; it is thought this is why youth under 21 have more serious concussions. There is more fluid surrounding a young brain, thus there is more room for the brain to move under the skull.

Another fallacy is with helmets, as no helmet or mask will prevent a concussion. They only protect the skull while the brain still shakes around inside the skull.

An issue with most concussions is you often do not realize how badly you are hurt. The changes may be very subtle. You feel off, and out of sorts. The injured need to depend on those closest to them to observe behavior and detect subtle changes that may indicate the athlete is not yet fully recovered to return to play.

Athletes often have the urge to get back into the game without being 100 percent aware of the symptoms or the damage they may be doing to themselves. Returning to play too soon may only attract another concussion, and with the third concussion you are likely out for life. The risk of returning to play too soon increases your risk tenfold of acquiring another concussion.

I caution patience and erring on the side of caution. Missing a few games is better than sitting out for the rest of your life.

I hope this helps some insight. We need to keep our youth active and healthy.

The Brain Navigator

I am currently in British Columbia doing the vision therapy that we talked a bit about. I went to a lecture about biofeedback and brain mapping. Do you have any insight on this? It sounds quite interesting and possibly useful, do you have any experience with it or knowledge about it that would be helpful? I would appreciate any input you could give me. — Kim

Hi Kim,

I am glad you are getting some help, and I hope it is working for you.

I think biofeedback was one of the strong motivators I had for writing the book. I had a number of biofeedback sessions. The one good thing is that it provided me with specific data confirming imbalances in my brain. This removed a lot of stress as it provided independent verification and support that my anxieties and emotions had a cause.

Would I ever do it again? Short answer, never. I believe I had major setbacks as a result of using this procedure. I think they gave me too many treatments, too often, overloading my bruised brain. When my symptoms worsened under their care, they abdicated any responsibility. My view is, they did not know how to deal with an individual with a concussion or ABI.

This is why I strongly advocate natural only — no chemicals or machines. Our brains are too sensitive, and too much is not known about the brain. There are many other things you can do that are natural and will not hurt you. I would really get my alignment worked on, sleep patterns, de-stress myself and increase my supplements before I did anything else.

Great hearing from you.

The Brain Navigator

Did you know?

  • Each person has about the same number of brain cells at birth as in adulthood. These cells grow, reaching maximum size at about age 6.
  • The brain finishes developing at age 20.
  • The brain sends and receives 190 messages per day.
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