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Aerobic Activity for Concussion Recovery

As football season slowly creeps closer, the topic of concussion becomes forefront with athletes, coaches, and families.  While preventing head injuries such as a concussion should be the priority, not all can be avoided.  Therefore, it is important to understand the best treatment options for post-concussion syndrome.  A new study from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education has found that starting aerobic exercise soon after a diagnosed concussion contributes to a faster return to the sport, school, and work. 

The recipe of concussion management has historically been simply to rest until the symptoms go away.  However, researchers have come to realize that in many cases, symptoms of a concussion last for a long time and these prolonged periods of complete lack of activity have actually had a negative effect on the healing process.  While a brief limitation of normal activity is still beneficial, this new research has found that light exercise even in the most acute phase after the concussion can vastly improve healing time. 

The research study followed 253 concussion patients between the ages of 15 and 20 and had various spans from the time of concussion to the initiation of aerobic exercise.  Some individuals actually began their aerobic exercise within 24 hours of the initial concussion diagnosis.  In fact, the research actually found that the longer the delay between the onset of concussion and the initiation of exercise, the longer the average time to return to the sport, school, or work.  The results did not notice any differences between recovery times for men and women.  However, history of prior concussions, the severity of symptoms, and loss of consciousness were all associated with longer recovery.

It is important to note the types of aerobic exercises used in this research study.  Most importantly, any exercise that was noticed to worsen symptoms was strongly discouraged.  Initial suggestions included low-impact activity with minimal head movement, such as stationary biking, elliptical, or walking.  Jogging and swimming are not recommended due to increased head movement.  This is an extremely important point – some exercises may improve recovery time, while others, even if they are similar, can delay the healing process. 

Aerobic exercise has long been accepted to have positive influences in other conditions that affect the brain (such as depression, stroke, and cognitive decline), as well as in cases of persistent symptoms following a concussion.  The benefits come from many elements, including the production of pro-inflammatory and antioxidant factors while exercising.  Brain tissue itself is supported by exercise through the production of neurotrophic factors which form new neurons and allow existing neurons to thrive.  All of these influences of exercise would both benefit an injured brain while keeping an uninjured brain thriving.  Very important findings continue to be discovered in the research realm, all working toward keeping us safe and allowing us to heal as quickly as possible if an injury does occur.

Yours in Health, Dr. Alex

Project Wellness Company, Madison WI

Remember, if you do suffer a concussion it is important to get tested and to follow proper post-concussion recovery methods. If you have additional questions about concussion recovery or may have experienced a concussion yourself, please reach out to us.