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The first step in concussion recovery is knowing the signs and symptoms of a concussion, but how do we recover and when is it safe to return to sport.   Recovery is important because of the research related to CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.  CTE is a degenerative brain disease that is often found in athletes that have had repetitive hits to the head or body.  CTE can cause long term brain damage including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, and eventually dementia, as well as mood changes including depression, irritability, and anxiety. Scientifically, there is a protein called Tau that forms clumps that spread through the brain and kills brain cells.  Interesting fact is that evidence is showing us that repetitive sub-concussive impacts (hits to the head that don’t cause full-blown concussions) and not allowing your brain to heal between these impacts are the biggest factor to CTE.  This is why recovery is so important.  

Most people recover from a mild concussion in 7-10 days, however severe concussions may take months.  The important factor in concussion recovery is rest.  Your brain needs time to heal, so it is important to rest your brain and your body. This includes reducing time looking at your phone, TV, or laptop, limit your exposure to bright lights and loud sounds, avoid unnecessary movements of your head and neck, and limit your physical activity.  It is found that the more you rest initially, the faster you recover from a concussion.

So when is it safe to return to kayaking.  You should give yourself at least 7-10 days and there should no longer be symptoms. That includes blurred vision, dizziness, fogginess, or difficulty thinking.  Once the symptoms are gone you can start the 6 step process that the International Conference on Concussion in Sports outlined in 2010.  The 6‐step protocol and moves through the progression at 24‐hour intervals as long as no symptoms occur.  If symptoms occur, you return to the previous step until you are able to complete it without symptoms. 

Step 1:  No activity.  

​This really the recovery stage.  There is couch time, bed time, and chair time. Don’t increase your heart rate and keep your brain rested.

Step 2:  Light aerobic exercise

​Start walking.  Slowly increase your heart rate.  Maybe an easy jog, but limit multi directional movement.  

Step 3:  Sport Specific Exercise

​Now you can get in your kayak.  Start with flat water or class 1-2 river running, depending on your previous skill level.  Paddle through a flat water slalom course to start getting mind/body coordination back.   Take out a kayak that is made for stability so there isn’t a chance of rolling over or losing your stability.

Step 4:  Non contact training drills

​Get on the river.  Start with class 2 and work your way up.  This again will depend on your previous skill level.  If prior to your concussion you were comfortable on Class 3, but Class 4 challenged you. . . only progress to  class 3.  Start with kayak that is comfortable and stable.  Maybe a larger creek boat that you are confident in your skills and won’t flip over.  Start catching eddies and front surf easy waves.  The goal of this stage is to get on the river, but nothing should challenge you mentally or physically. 

Step 5:  Full contact practice.

​Now it is time to challenge yourself.  Add more challenges on the river. More eddies, more surfing.  Maybe bring out your playboat or a boat that has less stability.  It is ok here to start flipping upside down, but keep yourself in situations where you won’t hit your head or your body.  Start challenging what your mind and body can do in your kayak, but again keep in mind your previous comfort levels.  Now isn’t the time to run that river you have never run before.

Step 6:  Return to Sport

​Don’t forget your helmet, but get back to everything you were doing before the concussion. This might be running waterfalls, surfing “stake out” size waves, getting on your local backyard run, or to the playpark.  And a reminder. . .  stop if any symptoms occur. 

We only have one brain, so it is important that we take care of it.  Stay tuned for updates regarding helmet safety. 

Jessica Yurtinus, MSPT – Kayaker