New findings from an interdisciplinary team at the University of Buffalo may have a big impact for how we treat traumatic brain injury in the future. Currently, the main suggestion for TBI patients is lots of rest, both physical and mental, but the study suggests aerobic exercise may actually help recovery.
The study followed eight concussion patients, four with controlled aerobic exercise and four with stretching exercises that don’t raise the heart rate. Their results were then compared against four healthy participants. The researchers examined symptoms as well as cognitive function “via magnetic resonance imaging tests while participants performed simple arithmetic tasks.”
During the beginning of the study, the researchers found hypermetabolic activity and other differences in the brains of those with post-concussion syndrome, which they believe explains the mental exhaustion TBI patients often deal with.
All of the patients with concussions showed these differences, but after treatment, only the graded, aerobic exercise group had returned to normal, as well as showing a significant decline in symptoms.
“It is rare to have such significant findings with a small sample study, and especially to find such powerful evidence that after a concussion, patients can actually return to normal brain function with graded exercise treatment,” said John J. Leddy, MD, clinical associate professor of orthopaedics and lead author on the paper.
Such strong findings won’t change that the test now has to be expanded to a larger sample size, but it seems very likely to be backed up by later tests. If their results are supported, it is possible the standard treatment for the most common forms of traumatic brain injury will be completely revised to incorporate gradual introduction to aerobic physical activity.