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With concussion treatments, timing is everything, says traumatic brain injury specialist

Bringing children to a concussion specialist could make difference in recovery from head injuries
Bringing children to a concussion specialist could make difference in recovery from head injuries 02:12

BOSTON - Many kids suffer concussions but it can be hard to determine who will have long-term symptoms and who can safely return to sports. Getting your child seen by a concussion specialist, early on, could make all the difference in their recovery.

As a school-based athletic trainer for more than 33 years, Terri Pillsbury knows a lot about concussions.

"It might not even be a blow to the head," said Pillsbury. "Concussions can occur from whiplash. Concussions can occur even on a great turf field like this." 

The 56-year-old also knows from personal experience. Nearly two years ago, she fell off a five-foot landing, striking the back of her head hard. After weeks of dizziness, short-term memory loss, insomnia, and sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights, she was eventually referred to the concussion program at Mass General Brigham.

"It was very helpful there," said Pillsbury.

That's exactly what doctors are hoping more children will do after a head injury. Get seen by a concussion specialist sooner rather than later.

Dr. Mary Alexis Iaccarino is a traumatic brain injury specialist who treated Pillsbury. She said it's important to determine which kids may suffer long-term and who is ready to return to sports. If too soon, their symptoms could return even stronger or in rare cases, never go away.

"We used to think that rest was the best medicine for concussion, but research has shown us that actually an active rehabilitation approach is the best way to get people better faster," said Iaccarino. "Some of the things we might do would be to put a child through an exercise progression through some cognitive testing through a series of concussions, specific physical exam maneuvers in the office, which can really tell us if we're going to be able to provoke those concussion symptoms.

That way, parents and trainers can know if the child is really back to normal and ready to get back into play. 

"As I tell the kids," said Pillsbury, "This is your brain we're talking about. We're not talking about your finger or your ankle. We're talking about your brain and this is something that obviously you need for the rest of your life."

Sound advice for us all.

If a concussion specialist is not available in your area, doctors said a team approach with input from the pediatrician, athletic trainer, and school nurse is best.

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