Deciding when someone has rested enough “is still an art form,” Gioia said. “We need to be studying this, and ultimately need to refine this with some good scientific evidence.”
Meehan said he usually lets students return to school about a week after a concussion, even if they can keep up with only two or three subjects and need extra time on tests for a while.
Sports are usually off the table for longer. Meehan said he starts students back with some easy jogging, to make sure they can handle the activity without showing symptoms such as dizziness or headaches.
“The last thing we want is for kids to stop doing sports,” Meehan said, citing the childhood obesity epidemic and the benefits of team play.
Ryan Quinn, a senior at North Andover High School, would never give up sports, but he has cut back after getting a concussion in basketball his sophomore year, and another in football his junior year — both of which cost him a month of school.
He agreed to quit basketball, lacrosse, and hockey for good, but when he wanted to rejoin the varsity football team this fall, Cantu, his doctor, struck a compromise: He suggested Quinn focus on being a field goal kicker. Now, Quinn, 18, works out with the team, but avoids tackling.
Although he still feels overwhelmed in loud, bright places, Quinn says he’s fully recovered. He volunteers to talk about concussions with students in North Andover and elsewhere, advising them to use safety equipment to help prevent concussions.
“I don’t want them to get knocked out and have to give up things they love to do,” he said.
Concussion specialists say that because concussions can happen in any sport, or even a moment of clumsiness, no specific sports should be off-limits.
But in a book that came out in September, “Concussion and Our Kids,” Cantu argues that youth should avoid tackle football, heading a soccer ball, or body checking in hockey at least until age 14, when the brain and neck are more mature.
Helmets help protect against more serious brain trauma — and are essential in sports such as field hockey, lacrosse, and baseball when batting, Cantu said. But studies suggest that helmets may encourage athletes to play more aggressively, causing more of the knocks that lead to concussions, Meehan said.
Meehan said he’s concerned that all the recent publicity over concussions will make parents unnecessarily anxious.
“I think some people fear that if they get a concussion or two that they’re going to have these lifelong consequences, and that’s just very unlikely,” he said.
Jami Uretsky has had to overcome that anxiety to allow her son Mitchell, 15, to play hockey after her daughter’s injury.
“What am I going to say, ‘You need to quit because your sister got hurt’?” she said. “So I just sort of close my eyes and hold my breath.”
Karen Weintraub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.