Returning to Duty After a Concussion

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center
Returning to Duty After a Concussion

The vast majority of people who sustain a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)/concussion recover completely with little or no intervention.

After an injury event, and once they have had a medical evaluation service members may be given a short period of time to rest, allowing the brain time to heal. Rest should include physical as well as mental work. It also is important to avoid activities that would put the brain at risk for a second injury before the brain has been given adequate time to heal.

Service members should be able to return to duty when they are free of symptoms and have finished their recovery period, but recovery is different for each person and depends on the nature and severity of the injury. A medical provider will determine when a service member should return to duty. Going back to work too soon may cause symptoms to recur or worsen.

Why does concussion affect returning to duty?

  • Symptoms after a concussion can affect performance and place the service member or their unit in danger.
  • These temporary symptoms resolve faster when the brain gets rest, so it is important to take time to recover.
  • If the service member sustains another concussion before healing from the first one, his or her recovery might take longer.

What can service members do to help themselves return to duty faster?

  • Maximize downtime and rest.
  • Sleep is key to recovery. Get six to eight hours of sleep.
  • Protect themselves from another concussion by avoiding contact sports, combatives, etc.
  • Let others know that they have had a concussion so they can watch out for them.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Follow their medical provider’s instructions and be honest about their symptoms.
  • Avoid alcohol and drug use. (Alcohol and drug use significantly slow down recovery).
  • Avoid caffeine, energy drinks and other “energy-enhancing” products that might interfere with sleep.
  • Don’t take any medications, including over-the-counter medications, unless their medical provider instructs them to.
  • Avoid sleeping aids and sedatives unless their provider advises them to take them.
  • Don’t do physical work, heavy lifting or exercise until cleared by their medical provider.
  • Limit activities that require intense concentration, such as writing reports or playing video games.
Posted on BrainLine May 25, 2017.

By the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, a Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Center.