Could Supervised Exercise Speed Up Concussion Recovery?

Bob W Hutchins
3 Mins
Could Supervised Exercise Speed Up Concussion Recovery?

The earth is flat. Undoubtedly.

Bloodletting is the best way to rid a patient of an infection. Without question.

Sports Related Concussions (SRCs) are best treated with copious amounts of stillness and rest in a dark room. Absolutely.

But is that really the best course of treatment to treat the whole person and return them to a healthy life, in which they can accomplish daily activities and eventually return to their sport?

Changing Things Up... a Little Bit

Just like the earth being flat and blood-letting being the best course of action for treating ailments, we’ve since learned new truths that seem to contradict the other “absolutes” previously believed.

Before we get started, let’s say this clearly: follow your doctor’s guidance. Immediate rest is still imperative. When an athlete experiences an SRC, the brain has been jostled within the cranium. Rest is important in allowing the brain to recover.

But it turns out, exercise can also benefit the recovery process. Joint replacement surgeries once required complete immobility for weeks as the body healed. Now patients are often up walking or moving the affected knee within hours of surgery. Similarly, patients who have experienced a concussion may improve faster and more completely with the addition of exercise.

When Can I Start Working Out Again?

Traditional treatment methods usually restricted patients from any kind of exercise for weeks or even months, often until all symptoms had been resolved. New studies have shown repeatedly that excessive rest may exacerbate, worsen, and prolong the duration of symptoms, as reported by Michael Popovich, M.D., M.P.H., a sports neurologist at Michigan NeuroSport.

While all medical professionals agree there should be at least 24-48 hours of rest for both the physical and mental aspects of recovery, the time to return to activity is different for each person and each concussion.

Just as staying sedentary too long may be detrimental, returning to exercise too soon or working out too intensely may also hinder recovery and even lead to additional injuries or concussions. Finding the happy balance for each injury is critical.

That being said, athletes who began supervised exercise programs earlier, even while still symptomatic, returned to their respective sports at an average of 26.5 days, as opposed to athletes who were told only to rest (35.1 days).

What Kind of Exercises Help Concussions?

The short answer is, “the supervised kind.” Do NOT attempt to exercise or return to a regimen or activity without the supervision and direction of your healthcare provider. Having supervision is paramount to recovery and not reinjuring or aggravating the injury. When you first begin exercising, your provider will likely start you on non-jarring exercises that require little head, neck, and body movement, such as:

  • Stationary bike
  • Elliptical machines
  • Walking

As you progress, you will continue to add and increase the duration and intensity of exercises, including resuming activities of daily living. The key to knowing when to move to the next phase, (i.e. agility, speed, sport-specific drills) is that the exercise is not provoking the symptoms of the concussion.

How Will Exercising Improve Concussion Recovery?

Dr. Popovich notes that there are physiological and mental benefits in addition to speeding up the timeline of the concussion recovery and return to daily and athletic activity:

  • Increased synaptic plasticity. Neuroplasticity is key to learning and memory functions.
  • Increase in production of brain-derived neurotrophic factors. This protein is manufactured in the brain and promotes nerve cell survival.
  • Increased cortical connectivity. This relates to the firing pattern of the neurons and the way the brain responds to stimuli.
  • Improved mood. Many athletes get a great deal of self-identity from the sport in which they participate. Having their performance suddenly taken away – plus losing the ability to do some basic daily tasks independently – often leads to psychological challenges, including depression and sadness. Allowing athletes to resume even mild exercise may improve mood and increase willingness to recover.
  • Improved sleep. As previously noted, rest is still a very important part of recovering from a concussion. Excessive stillness, nausea, neck strain, headaches and dizziness may make deep, recuperative sleep harder to achieve. Improved sleep also contributes to improved cognition. Managed exercise may reduce some of the other symptoms that contribute to poor sleep.

Learn More About the Potential Benefits of Exercise on Concussions

Mild to moderate supervised exercises may relieve symptoms of sports-related concussions, as well as reduce the length of time you experience symptoms and are out of commission from your sport. If you have questions or want more information about recovery, please don’t hesitate to call us at 888-549-5519 or use the online chat feature.

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