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Concussion Recovery:  How to speed up return to school and sports.

Concussions are a common injury among student athletes, and parents often wonder how they can help speed up their teenager's recovery. At our sports injury clinic in Portland, Oregon, we often get questions about when a student athlete can safely return to school and sports activities after a concussion. In this post, we'll share some recent research on these topics and explore whether biofeedback techniques like breathing exercises can help with prolonged concussion symptoms.


A recent article in the Journal of American Medical Association in January 2023 looked at how the timing of return to school is related to later symptom burden after a concussion. This study looked at whether early return to school is associated with additional symptoms from a concussion two weeks after the injury. This multicenter study looked at participants aged 5 to 18 years of age with an acute concussion. The study primarily looked at how much symptoms the injured children were experiencing at 14 days after the injury. This study examined 1600 children of these children 875 had to early return to school.  The study found an early return to school was associated with lower symptom scores in the 8- to 12-year-old range and in the 13- to 18-year-old range. The study concluded that in youth aged 5 to 18 prolonged absences from school and other life activities after concussion may be detrimental to recovery. An early return to school may be associated with lower symptom burden and ultimately fast recovery. 


In children aged 8 and older, early return to school (considered to be 2 days or less) after the injury resulted in fewer symptoms at 2 weeks after the injury.  This was particularly true for children with higher symptom scores at the initial injury.  Early return to school after concussion may directly or indirectly promote faster recovery from concussion.  It is thought that socialization and exercise could be embedded benefits of return to school. 


In teenagers who have a slow recovery from concussion which means they are experiencing symptoms for over a month, a recent study has preliminarily found that the combination of aerobic exercises and breathing exercises resulted in improved sleep, mood, thinking, and autonomic functioning such as digestion, heart rate, and blood pressure.   In the study, a group of teens performed aerobic exercise only, another group participated in breathing exercises only, and a third group did both.  In the study, all groups showed improvement in symptoms, but the breathing and aerobic exercise group had greater improvements than the other two.


Treating prolonged persistent concussion symptoms can be difficult as there are not specific standardized therapies.  The treatments found effective in this study are important because they are effective, inexpensive, relatively easy to do, and can easily be taught to the concussed individual. 


If you or your child has experienced a concussion, it's important to seek medical attention and follow the appropriate treatment plan for a safe and speedy recovery. At Sports Health Northwest, we're here to help with any questions or concerns you may have about returning to school and sports activities after a concussion. Contact us today for expert guidance and support.


Dr Westerdahl David Westerdahl MD FAAFP RMSK Sports Medicine Physician and owner Sports Health Northwest, Inc.

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