Can Moderate Exercise Speed Up Concussion Recovery?

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Recent research is changing the way doctors prescribe the road to concussion recovery.

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CLEVELAND – In years past, children diagnosed with concussions were given instructions that included complete bed rest and little to no physical activity.

But recent research is changing the way doctors prescribe the road to concussion recovery. 

The study looked at 103 children between the ages of 13-18 who had been diagnosed with a sports-related concussion.

Some teens were prescribed light stretching that did not elevate heart rate, while others performed light aerobic activity such as walking, jogging or cycling on a stationary bike.

Researchers found the teens who performed the light aerobic activity recovered from their concussions faster than the teens who only performed stretching.

Richard So, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, did not take part in the research, but said guidelines around concussion recovery continue to change based on new evidence from studies like this one.

“The old guidelines said you had to be 100 percent symptom-free prior to starting your light aerobic activity,” he said. “This new study shows that you don’t have to be 100 percent – your symptoms could be 85-90 percent better– and if you start activity a little bit sooner, it shows there is a shorter duration of recovery.”

Dr. So said as long as light aerobic activity does not aggravate a child’s concussion symptoms, it’s worth getting them moving sooner rather than later.

“What you want to do is have the child start with some light aerobic activity,” he said. “It can be as simple and easy as walking on a treadmill, and advancing to a slow jog for ten minutes, or just riding a stationary bike for ten minutes.” 

Dr. So said even though experts are learning more about concussions every day, one thing that has not changed is the advice regarding ‘when in doubt, sit them out.’

“When in doubt, you have to sit them out,” he said. “And if your child has headaches where they can’t concentrate, or the headaches worsen at school; if they can’t tolerate bright lights and loud noises with the headache – and if they don’t have history of migraines in the past, you should get the child checked out by a physician.”

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA Pediatrics.

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