Chris G. Koutures, MD, FAAP Pediatric and sports medicine specialist

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USA Volleyball Mens/Womens National Teams
CS Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics
Chapman University Dance Department
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Co-Author of Acclaimed Textbook

Pediatric Sports Medicine: Essentials for Office Evaluation

Orange County Physician Of Excellence, 2015 and 2016


Filtering by Tag: complete rest after concussion may not be best prescription

How Much Rest Right After a Concussion?

A 16 year-old running back suffers a direct blow to the head in a Friday night game. He immediately has a headache and dizziness and is removed from the game. He is sent home in the care of his parents after a discussion of particular signs and symptoms that would require emergency evaluation, and follow-up on Monday has been arranged with the his pediatrician.

In the meantime, what should he be able to do over the weekend?

Traditional post-concussion recommendations have focused on strict limitations in both cognitive and physical activity until resolution of concussion-related symptoms. The “cocoon treatment” where absolute avoidance of all stimulation, often carried out in a dark bedroom for several days, was one such initial recommendation.

More recent data suggests that over-aggressive reduction of cognitive and physical stimulation may actually prolong post-concussion recovery. Thomas et al in Pediatrics  found that a strict 5 days of rest resulted in more daily reported symptom scores and slower symptom resolution versus 1-2 days of rest followed by stepwise return to activity. Zemek et al presented a paper at the 2016 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting reporting that 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.

Striking a balance between overstimulation and understimulation is best done on an individual basis taking into account symptoms and patient preference. Allowing brief (initially 10-15 minute) intervals of activity such as light reading, listening to music, easy walking,  or even texting can reduce feelings of isolation and foster recovery. Patients should focus on one activity at a time (no “multitasking”) and should immediately stop activities that result in worsening of symptoms. Regular medical follow-up evaluation can help determine further at-home activity recommendations and also guide return to learn and ultimate return to sport progression.

Complete Rest After Concussion May Not Be Best Prescription

This report from the 2016 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that children who get low risk exercise even while still having post-concussion symptoms may actually have shorter recovery periods.

One may rightfully wonder if there is some selection bias in these results- kids who may have felt less burdened by concussion symptoms naturally tried to return to exercise sooner. Further study will have to explore this potential phenomenon.

Overall, I think these findings and the outcomes of similar studies provide support for a more active post-concussion recovery monitored by qualified health care providers and not just predicated on rest and watchful waiting.

The proper time to start such active recovery is not certain and likely will be an individual matter as well.

This does also bring up the fact that many current concussion return to sport policies recommend or even require that athletes must be symptom-free before being allowed to return to any form of exercise.

If continued study indeed adds support to the role of appropriately monitored and prescribed exercise to enhance recovery, then these policies, such as the California Interscholastic Federation return protocol, will need to be amended.

Rather than a "one size fits all" uniform pathway, allowing some measure of flexibility may also provide beneficial when determining starting points and type/amount of exercise.

Otherwise medical experts and school officials are possibly restricted in utilizing exercise to aid in recovery and this limitation may actually be slowing the improvement of concussed athletes.