Recovering from a traumatic brain injury may take longer than previously thought, according to a new study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine 62nd Annual Meeting.
The findings of the study show it took male athletes an average of 3 to 4 weeks to recover, twice the length of the previously established 7 to 14 days. Women took even longer to recover.
“More and more people are starting to realize that you need to take a comprehensive approach so that you don’t send a kid back who might be recovered on one measure but not another,” said Anthony Kontos, PhD, from the University of Pittsburgh.
The traditional estimate of a 7- to 14-day recovery period was drawn from studies of male American football players that only relied on neurocognitive tests and symptoms.
To test the accuracy of this figure, Dr. Kontos and colleagues followed 24 female and 42 male high-school and college athletes after a concussion diagnosis. The mean age of athletes in the study was 16.5 years.
The athletes were tested every week for four weeks after the initial diagnosis, and were asked to self-report measures of symptoms, verbal memory, visual memory, visual motor processing speed, reaction time, dizziness, and vestibular and oculomotor symptoms.
The largest improvements in self-reported symptoms occurred over the first two weeks, but significant improvements continued up to 4 weeks.
The male athletes were more than twice as likely as the female athletes in the study to have recovered by week 4. Females also reported higher rated of dizziness and vestibular and oculomotor symptoms than their male counterparts.
Kontos also said the study ran out of funding after 4 weeks, but some imaging studies also indicate abnormalities beyond that time period.
The findings show that clinicians and health professionals should use more than one measure to properly assess whether a concussion patient has fully recovered.