Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Joey Bosa recently spoke about his concussion recovery for Sports Illustrated. While he is far from the first NFL player to share about his experience with a brain injury, Bosa did open up more than many others in the area of mental health.
I have also been recovering from a concussion, which I sustained in 2019. (Not from professional football, but from a sports-related performance accident!). Many of the actions that Bosa took following his injury are tools that have helped me as well, including medical attention, mental health support, communication, and finding accommodations.
Bosa’s story and his return to the game offer valuable lessons for any youth athlete who wants a successful and healthy recovery.
Seek and Follow Medical Guidance
This is the most important thing! Seek immediate medical attention from a qualified professional following a concussion, and follow guidelines closely. While you may not have a doctor on-call like Joey Bosa or another NFL player, you can find providers well-versed in concussion protocol in various places. Perhaps your coach, school, or primary care doctor can direct you to somebody. Do some research and ask around, and then follow the doctor’s guidance.
I came across several doctors who were not trained in concussions, and then found a successful care team that included a physiatrist, physical therapist, and vision therapist.
Prioritize Mental Health
Joey Bosa has become an outspoken advocate for seeking mental health following his concussions. Brain injuries have real physical and neurological repercussions and have psychological side effects that can cause depression and anxiety. (A concussion is a type of brain injury).
Bosa found help through therapy, meditation, and his friends and family to help him out of a dark place. Take the time to find a therapist who is familiar with concussions and health issues. Also, there are many free meditation tools available in-person and online! This work will make it easier to get back to sports and all areas of your life.
Communicate With Others
Bosa didn’t just stay in communication with his doctors and therapist during his concussion recovery. He also communicated with his network and team, including the Chargers new head coach Brandon Staley. Bosa was clear about what he was going through, physically and mentally, and when he expected to return to the sport.
You don’t need to become an outspoken advocate like Bosa (unless you want to!). But letting your family, friends, and teammates know where you’re at can help the transition. It can also take away isolation and help with mental health. Additionally, you can work together with professionals others to find accommodations that ease the transition.
Connect With the Concussion Community
There are millions of concussions each year in the United States alone. (source) There are also many to connect with a multitude of others in concussion recovery. Bosa has built a community through advocacy, which is one possibility. You may already know somebody on your team or at your school who had a concussion- you could start a conversation with them and ask about their experience. There are also many free websites, social media groups, and local support groups, including the following:
I have found so much support and information through several groups and communities. Sometimes I even got pointed to a new doctor who helped me in my concussion recovery.
Bosa did not rush back to play with his teammates before he had addressed his physical and mental health issues. He spent the offseason focusing on getting the help he needed. Only after that did he return to train and play with his teammates. Sometimes he did separate exercises on the side.
Practicing patience is important in concussion recovery. Physical therapists sometimes say, “If you’ve seen one brain injury, you’ve seen one brain injury.” Your timeline might be shorter or longer than Bosa’s and others recovering from the same injury. What’s important is to follow the advice of professionals who get it, while you stay in communication as best you can. That will lead to a quicker and healthier return to the game.
Also, “practice patience” is different from “wait and see”! While working towards a return to sports, there are many ways to stay active in a modified way. You can keep up with your physical therapy exercises, meditate, socialize in a way your brain allows, and enjoy new and old hobbies.