Is Prolonged Rest Slowing Concussion Recovery?

Rest has been considered the primary way to treat concussions for quite some time, but new research shows it may not be the best course of recovery. In fact, children who exercise within a week of experiencing a brain injury may recover faster than those who simply rest.


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In particular, the existing guidelines for treating concussed athletes say young athletes should avoid all physical activity until their symptoms have completely subsided. Despite this, a research abstracted presented recently at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2016 Meeting shows that those who exercise within seven days have nearly half the rate of concussion symptoms a month later, regardless of their initial symptom severity.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the University of Ottawa, surveyed 3,063 children between the ages of 5 and 18 who had visited hospital emergency departments for brain injuries. The survey specifically asked questions about their level of physical activity and severity of symptoms at 7, 14, and 28 days after their injury.

Going against recommendations, the survey showed that most of the children (58%) resumed exercising within a week of their injury despite still having symptoms. By two week after injury, 76% had resumed physical activity.

Normally when researchers find that people are widely ignoring medical recommendations, it is cause for alarm. However, the researchers saw that those who resumed activity also experienced faster recoveries.

“Exercise within seven days of injury was associated with nearly half the rate of persistent post-concussive symptoms, or those that last beyond a month,” said principal investigator Roger Zemek, M.D., FRCPC, who directs the clinical research unit at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and serves as an associate professor in the departments of pediatrics and Emergency Medicine and Clinical Research Chair in Pediatric Concussion at the University of Ottawa.

“This is the first large-scale study to provide support for the benefits of early exercise on symptom recovery following acute pediatric concussion, shifting away from conservative rest towards more active physical rehabilitation recommendations,” he said.

While these findings raise significant questions about how concussions are most often treated, more research will have to be done to determine if changes should be made to concussion guidelines across the nation.

“If earlier re-introduction of physical activities is, in fact, confirmed to be beneficial to recovery, this would have a significant impact on the well-being of millions of children and families worldwide and cause a major shift in concussion management,” he concluded.

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