Mental Strain Significanly Slows Concussion Recovery

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

Although concussions are caused by a physical trauma, a new study showed that mental exertion after suffering a head injury can delay a full recovery. The new study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, suggested that kids who suffer a concussion should try to give their brains a few days rest before returning to normal activities.

“After a concussion, we recommend rest because kids tend to do too much,” study author, Dr. Naomi Brown, a physician in the division of sports medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told HealthDay.

The study included 335 patients between the ages of 8 and 23 who visited the sports concussion clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital. The study team found that almost half of the children and young adults in the study who didn’t reduce their mental strain took 100 days or longer to completely recover. Almost all participants who cut back the most on their daily mental strain had recovered by 100 days, most within two months.

Co-author Dr. William Meehan said while vigorous mental exertion appeared to be detrimental to recovery, more modest levels of mental effort do not seem to delay recovery.

“We recommend a period of near full mental rest after injury – approximately three to five days – followed by a gradual return to full levels of mental activity,” said Meehan, director of the Sports Concussion Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital.

In the study, participants were asked to describe their symptoms and how much mental work they had done since their last visit. They were given five options for describing their amount of mental work during studies and video games: complete mental rest, minimal mental activity, moderate mental activity, significant mental activity or full mental activity.

The study researchers emphasized that only those who reported the highest level mental activity took the longest time to completely recover and parents should take the study’s findings as a reason to keep their child away from mental activities.

“If you shut down completely, meaning you don’t go to school or do any reading or screen time, or if you do a little bit less than normal, you recover in the same time period – an average of 20 to 50 days,” Brown said.

The doctor said young people who suffer a concussion should slowly resume standard daily mental activity, possibly working only until symptoms such as headaches begin to appear.

“We are not recommending complete abstinence from school, especially after the first week,” she said. “If you go to school for a couple of hours and you are doing OK, then the next day you can go for a little bit more and slowly test it out.”

Brown added that every concussion and every patient is different.

Dr. John Kuluz, a traumatic brain injury expert at Miami Children’s Hospital, said he tells concussion patients to take it easy.

“Rest is the cornerstone of concussion therapy,” he said. “I tell my patients, ‘You have to slow down, but I don’t want you to do nothing. I want you to find the right amount of mental activity for you, and you find that level by paying attention to your symptoms,'” he added.