How Concussions Are Treated

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

For an injury that can be tricky to diagnose, treating a concussion is surprisingly straightforward. There's no medication required, although Tylenol (acetaminophen) can help if there's a headache. Sometimes after a head injury, an overnight stay in the hospital for observation is advisable, but it's rarely necessary. Only a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) would require an intervention such as surgery.

In fact, the most effective prescription for a concussion is rest—total rest. For some people that may be easier said than done. But, by giving both the body and brain an extended time-out, the damage caused by a concussion will heal. 

Treating Concussions
 Verywell / Colleen Tighe

Physical Rest

This is especially important for athletes who may be tempted to go right back onto the field after sustaining a blow to the head.

Even a few seconds of feeling stunned or dizzy can indicate damage to the brain, and so it's vital to stay on the sidelines until testing indicates it's OK to get back into the game.

This is especially important for someone who's had a concussion in the past. Repeat concussions can cause serious and lasting problems, especially if a second concussion occurs before the full recovery from a first.

This advice holds true for non-athletes as well, but regardless of what you were doing when you sustained an injury that led to a concussion, it's important to avoid any physical activities that could put you at risk of a second head injury.

This means, for example, if you tripped down the stairs and sustained a concussion after banging your head on the banister, you should probably stay off your bicycle (or your ice skates or your snow skis) until you're fully healed and get a green light from your doctor. When you do resume normal activity, ease back in.

Athletes often start with light aerobic exercise, for example, before moving on to sport exercises and non-contact drills and finally practicing with contact before returning to competition.

Repeated concussions not only increase the risk of further concussion but have been associated with early-onset dementia.

Cognitive Rest

For many folks, this may be even tougher to do. But, the only way to give the brain the opportunity to truly repair itself is to use it as little as possible—what is often referred to as cognitive rest.

This usually means no reading, no homework, no texting, no surfing the Internet, no playing video games, and no watching television. Even listening to music can tax the brain. You likely will be advised to stay home from school or work while recovering from a concussion.

How long you'll need to rest your body and brain will depend on how serious your concussion is and what your doctor determines is necessary. One thing that is certain is that there's no rushing recovering from a concussion.

The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) notes the recovery process for a concussion can be very uneven.

A person who's on the mend from a concussion is likely to have days during which he or she feels better than other days.

On such good days the temptation is often to try to "do more" in order to make up ahead of time for the next "bad day," but that approach is likely to slow down the rate of recovery, according to the BIAA.

When you do resume your regular activities, you'll need to take it slow. Work for only half days, for example, or temporarily move to a desk in your classroom or your office where the light is dimmer, and there isn't as much noise and activity.

It will also be important to get enough sleep, steer clear of alcohol, lay off the cigarettes if you smoke, drink plenty of water, and eat well—sound advice that may leave you stronger and healthier overall.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do right after I have a concussion?

If you sustain a head injury and experience symptoms of a concussion right away—such as dizziness, loss of consciousness, or vomiting—do not go back to whatever you were doing even if those symptoms disappear. If you were hurt while playing a sport, for example, do not go back on the field until you've been evaluated by a doctor.

Is it OK to take Advil for a concussion headache?

This isn't ideal. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) cause blood to thin, which can increase the risk of bleeding in the brain. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is a safer option for a headache associated with a head injury.

How can I tell if I have a concussion?

Only a doctor can definitively diagnose a concussion, but there are a number of common symptoms to look out for after a head injury:

  • Dizziness/loss of balance
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • A persistent headache that worsens over time
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Physical sluggishness
  • Mental "fogginess"

Note that loss of consciousness rarely occurs with a concussion, and also that it may take several hours or even a day or so to experience symptoms.

How long does it take for a mild concussion to heal?

You should begin to feel "normal" and free of headaches, dizziness, fuzzy thinking, and other concussion symptoms after two to three of weeks of rest. This means giving your body and your brain a chance to recover according to your doctor's instructions. If after 14 days of rest your symptoms haven't begun to diminish, tell your doctor.

Can I treat a concussion at home?

Absolutely. In fact, it's ideal to stay home after sustaining a concussion to give your body and brain as much rest as possible. Take time off from work (or, if you're the parent of a child with a concussion, keep them home from school). Follow your doctor's instructions regarding physical and mental activity, gradually returning to your regular activities as your symptoms subside.

Concussions Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man
Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Concussions

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Concussions: Management and Treatment

  3. Brain Injury Association of America. On the road to recovery.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Concussion: How is a concussion treated? Updated June 2, 2020.

  5. Brain Injury Association of America. Symptoms.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concussion signs and symptoms. Updated Feb 12, 2019.

Additional Reading