Rest helps young people to recover from concussion

Taking a mental break can help speed up a young person’s recovery from a concussion, according to a study in Pediatrics.

Cognitive rest—giving the brain time off from tasks that require concentration—is recommended after concussion by a number of medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Neurology. Until this study, however, there have been limited data to support it.

About the study

The study involved 335 people ages 8 to 23 who visited a sports concussion clinic within three weeks of injury. Some concussions were sports-related; others were from falls. Nearly 20 percent of the patients said they had lost consciousness when they were injured, and close to 40 percent said they experienced amnesia.

At each follow-up visit, the patients reported how much time they had spent reading, doing homework, texting, playing video games and doing other tasks that required concentration. Based on their activity level, they were classified into one of five groups—ranging from least active (complete cognitive rest) to most active (no limitations on cognitive activity at all).

Researchers also asked about concussion symptoms at each visit, such as:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling dazed, mentally foggy or confused
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Mood changes

Researchers followed each person until he or she was symptom-free.

The study found that people who were most mentally active took an average of 100 days to fully recover, whereas those who were less mentally active reported they were symptom-free within 20 to 50 days.

The similarities in recovery among the mid-range groups suggested that it isn’t necessary to completely abstain from cognitive tasks, the authors wrote.

The study did not determine the ideal rest period after a concussion. Researchers also noted that people seen in a concussion clinic might differ from the population at large, a variable which could potentially limit the findings.

The take-home message
A concussion is a traumatic injury to the brain. Much like a sprained ankle needs rest to heal, so does an injured brain.

Parents should limit their child’s cognitive activities after a concussion and ask the child’s school to make allowances until a doctor declares the child symptom-free.

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