While the majority of people who experience a concussion have their symptoms fade away within a few weeks, some continue to struggle with symptoms for months and sometimes even years.
These lingering symptoms are often treated one-by-one, with a focus on solving the individual issues that may be contributing to the symptoms. But, a new study suggests that treatments that take a more holistic approach may be more effective in speeding up their recovery.
The small study, published in the journal Pediatrics today, shows that treatments focusing on the “whole person” may speed up recovery in teens who have experienced a concussion or TBI.
For the study, researchers from Seattle Children’s Hospital tested the effectiveness of a treatment model called “collaborative care” in which teenagers with persistent symptoms following a concussion saw a team of health professionals which addressed many different aspects of their health.
The medical professionals used a variety of treatments targeting both physical and mental health, including talk therapy to address depression and anxiety.
By six months after their injury, the teenagers who received collaborative care were more likely to have recovered faster than those who received “typical” care for their brain injury. However, determining what form this “typical care” came in is difficult.
As study author Carolyn McCarty explained, there are no guidelines for treating lingering concussion symptoms so injured teens with persistent symptoms may have been treated in a variety of ways.
For the study, McCarty and her colleagues evaluated 49 teenagers who had experienced a concussion-related to sports or recreation and showed lingering symptoms at least a month after their injury.
The team then randomly assigned the teenagers to receive either “collaborative care” approach or typical care. Those who received typical care were referred to a rehabilitative medicine specialist and in some cases received exercise therapy or medication for sleep problems.
Those who received collaborative care underwent cognitive behavioral therapy, which taught relaxation techniques and other strategies for combating depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. They also had access to a care manager, who was responsible for ensuring the individual’s primary care doctor, psychiatrist, and school were all aware of the individual’s condition and working together.
By six months into the study, just 13% of the teens who underwent collaborative care reported experiencing “high levels” of post-concussive symptoms, compared to 42 percent of those given typical care.
Over 75% of the teens in the collaborative care group also showed at least a 50% drop in depression symptoms, while only 46% of the typical care group reported similar reductions.
While the findings of the study are limited by the size and broad definition of “typical care”, McCarty says the findings emphasize the importance of actively treating all aspects of the body following a concussion, including mental and emotional symptoms.