While a lot has changed regarding concussions in the past few years, one thing has largely remained the same. When someone visits a doctor with a brain injury, they are typically told to rest and avoid exerting themselves with physical activities.
But, is that actually the best treatment for people recovering from concussions? More and more studies are suggesting exercise has little effect on concussion recoveries. In fact, it may even help.
One such study was recently presented at the American College of Sports Medicine 2017 by researchers at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. According to their findings, people with sports-related concussions recover at the same rate whether they continued to exercise or not.
“A lot of people think that someone with a concussion needs to lie in a dark room, but that’s not what we think,” said Justin Stumph, a medical student from Ohio University.
“This is important, because if you can exercise, why would you not?” explained Stumph. “There are so many benefits — physically and cognitively.”
To come to this conclusion, Stumph and his colleagues conducted a retrospective study which assessed 204 patients who were told to exercise before their symptoms resolved, as well as 153 who were told to avoid exercise.
While the team says exercise can be beneficial, they did tell participants to stop exercising if the exertion made symptoms worse.
“You don’t want someone to try to exercise through their symptoms,” Stumph said.
According to the report, both groups showed similar levels of concussion symptoms. The researchers do note that the median time between injury and symptom resolution was significantly longer for those who exercised, but they say the time between seeking medical help and recovery were much closer.
Based on this, the group concluded that exercise does not slow recovery for concussion patients.
The findings help support new guidelines released this year by the Concussion in Sport Group, saying that “patients can be encouraged to become gradually and progressively more active while staying below their cognitive and physical symptom-exacerbation thresholds.”
Because of studies like this, fewer physicians are limiting exercise after concussions. They say physical activity can help keep other parts of the body healthy through the injury and prevent issues with depression or isolation.