Athlete’s Return to Learn Process - The More You Know

You’re likely familiar with Return To Play (RTP) protocols following a concussion, but what about Return To Learn (RTL)? RTL protocols outline recommendations for the amount of time between a concussion and when an athlete returns to learning in the school setting. RTL protocols are often unclear or vague. What’s more, many concussion symptoms negatively impact academics and proper rest is recommended, but too much may worsen symptoms. States like Nevada are shedding light on RTL and helping athletes return to school safely and swiftly. 

After a concussion, total cognitive and physical rest (i.e., no screens) should last for three days or less if the athlete is symptom-free for 24 hours. In 2015, one study found that teens who adhered to strict physical and cognitive rest in the five days following a concussion reported higher post-concussive symptoms and slower symptoms resolution compared to teens who rested for 1-2 days after injury and then returned to school. This phenomenon may be due, in part, to social isolation and emotional distress associated with compiling schoolwork. 

RTL in youth sports is widely under-discussed but is becoming an important topic of discussion. Most play policies enforce rules for when an athlete can return to play but not when they can return to learn, which can yield issues for young people. One Nevada high school student, Stella Thornton, suffered multiple concussions as an equestrian and endured many challenges when returning to school due to vague RTL support and policies. Last month, she helped drive a new Nevada Senate Bill-80 through legislation. The Bill will enforce new policies that will focus on providing students who have suffered a concussion or other head injury a supportive pathway to return to academic activities such as classes, coursework and testing.

Following a concussion, the entire athlete care ecosystem, healthcare professionals, organizations, schools, coaches, athletic trainers, and parents must align and be involved in the athlete’s Return to Learn process. As new policies emerge to protect the health and well-being of youth athletes, it is increasingly important to stay informed as an organization. 

Click here to learn more about Return to Learn protocols from the American Academy of Pediatrics.


  1. Burke, T. (2023, June 16). “return to play” Bill signed into law. KRNV. 
  2. Return to learn protocol purpose - nashua. (2023). 
  3. Return to learn. Brain Injury Association of America. (2022, December 13).,relaxing%20and%20playing%20familiar%20games

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