Methods of treating concussions now suggest light exercise

In years past, children diagnosed with concussions were given instructions, including complete bed rest and little to no physical activity. But that's changing.

Recent research is changing the way doctors prescribe the road to concussion recovery. Doctor Richard So of the Cleveland Clinic Children's did not take part in the study, but said it shows a little activity following concussions is better than none.

"The old guidelines said that you had to be 100 percent symptom-free prior to starting your light aerobic activity. This new recent study shows that you don't have to be 100 percent," So said. "You could be 85 to 90 percent better from a symptom standpoint to start activity a little bit sooner. It shows that there's a shorter duration of recovery."

The study looks at more than 100 children between the ages of 13 and 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 also found the teens who performed the light aerobic activity recovered from their own concussions faster than the teens who only performed stretching. Doctor So said if 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 just light aerobic activity," So said. "It can be simple and easy as just walking on a treadmill and advancing to a slow jog for 10 minutes. Or, a lot of times, in our cold weather areas, it's just riding a stationary bike for 10 minutes."

Doctor So said even though experts are learning more about concussions every day, one thing that hasn't changed is advice regarding 'when in doubt, sit them out.' He said it's always better to sit out when a concussion is suspected. Rather than risk reinjuring the child.

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