Br J Sports Med 47:308-313 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092255
  • Review

The difficult concussion patient: what is the best approach to investigation and management of persistent (>10 days) postconcussive symptoms?

  1. Willem H Meeuwisse5
  1. 1The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Melbourne Brain Centre, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3Boston University Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  4. 4Division of Neurosurgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  5. 5Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre, Faculty of Kinesiology and Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael Makdissi, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Austin Campus, Melbourne Brain Centre, 245 Burgundy St Heidelberg Australia, Heidelberg, VIC 3084 Australia; makdissi{at}
  • Received 26 January 2013
  • Accepted 29 January 2013


Background Concussion in sport typically recovers clinically within 10 days of injury. In some cases, however, symptoms may be prolonged or complications may develop. The objectives of the current paper are to review the literature regarding the difficult concussion and to provide recommendations for an approach to the investigation and management of patients with persistent symptoms.

Methods A qualitative review of the literature on concussion in sport was conducted with a focus on prolonged recovery, long-term complications and management including investigation and treatment strategies. MEDLINE and Sports Discus databases were reviewed.

Results Persistent symptoms (>10 days) are generally reported in 10–15% of concussions. This figure may be higher in certain sports (eg, ice hockey) and populations (eg, children). In general, symptoms are not specific to concussion and it is important to consider and manage coexistent pathologies. Investigations may include formal neuropsychological testing and conventional neuroimaging to exclude structural pathology. Currently, there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine clinical use of advanced neuroimaging techniques or genetics markers. Preliminary studies demonstrate the potential benefit of subsymptom threshold activity as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation programme. Limited research is available on pharmacological interventions.

Conclusions Cases of concussion in sport where clinical recovery falls outside the expected window (ie, 10 days) should be managed in a multidisciplinary manner by healthcare providers with experience in sports-related concussion. Important components of management, after the initial period of physical and cognitive rest, include associated therapies such as cognitive, vestibular, physical and psychological therapy, assessment for other causes of prolonged symptoms and consideration of a graded exercise programme at a level that does not exacerbate symptoms.