Age is widely accepted as a major factor predicting how long a person will take to recover from a concussion. However, in a recent study comparing high school and college-age athletes, age was not linked to any significant difference in concussion recovery time.
According to the researcher’s report in the Journal of Athletic Training, a single injury protocol would be adequate to protect the brains of athletes in both age groups. The findings were published to coincide with the Youth Sports Safety Summit hosted by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the Youth Sports Safety Alliance.
“We were compelled to examine the question because many do assume or suspect that younger athletes are at higher risk for prolonged recovery from concussion,” said lead author Lindsay Nelson of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. “But when we dug into the existing literature on this topic, this hypothesis wasn’t consistently supported by the studies out there.”
To assess whether a difference in recovery times actually existed, the researchers poured over records of recovery patterns for 405 high school and 216 college athletes who experienced brain injuries between 1999 and 2003. They then compared the findings to records from 150 similar athletes without concussions.
Approximately 80 percent of athletes in the study played football while 16 percent played soccer.
The researchers noted that high school athletes may take one to two days longer to recover on cognitive measures, but concussion symptoms and balance recovery were similar regardless of age. All concussion factors and symptoms assessed by the study, including thinking skills, memory, and postural stability, had largely resolved for athletes in both groups by seven days following the injury.
Based on these findings, the researchers conclude a blanket requirement that high school athletes refrain from sports or academics longer than college athletes following a concussion would be unnecessary.
Despite this, Nelson told Reuters Health age may still have some difference in concussion recovery in areas not covered by the study.
“A great deal of brain development is occurring in adolescence, so it is possible that concussions have a greater impact on the less developed adolescent brain that are undetectable in the clinical metrics we rely on in practice today,” she said. “But per the best available evidence we have, suffering a single concussion at any age remains a low-risk injury with an excellent prognosis.”