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The role of exercise in recovery from a concussion

Updated: Mar 27



If you've had a concussion ( also referred to as a mild traumatic brain injury or mTBI ), you might have been recommended to get complete rest for several days. However, this well-intended advice is associated with a much slower recovery. Following a concussion, it is now recommended that you take rest for 24 to 48 hours then resume activities as soon as possible.


EVIDENCE FROM STUDIES


Concussion is a well studied medical subject, but it is still not fully understood. As science and studies advance, what we know about concussion changes rapidly. Unless the healthcare professional you are seeing is specially trained in the treatment of concussions, he or she might provide you with outdated information. There is a lot of research on concussions in recent years that has changed the way we think about and treat concussions.


First of all, the key factor in a rapid and complete recovery from a concussion is prompt management. Management within 3 to 7 days of the incident is a key factor in reducing recovery time. When we talk about concussion management, we are not just talking about a medical assessment or diagnosis, but the beginning of concussion-related care. Without receiving an adequate assessment and adequate recommendations adapted to their condition, people with concussion could engage in counterproductive behaviors such as strict rest (which is too often the first recommendation that is given) or excessive physical activity.*


Exercise is not only safe, it can also reduce recovery time. If you have persistent concussion symptoms, exercise can help reduce or eliminate these symptoms, whether you are still in the acute phase or have had symptoms that have persisted for several weeks.


EXERCISE, BUT NOT ANY KIND

Exercise, when properly done, is not only safe but also beneficial for recovery after a concussion.


However, you should not just engage in just any kind of activity. Aerobic physical activity (exercise performed for a long time, which increases the heart rate and improves blood circulation to the heart and muscles) should be favored and it should be practiced at an intensity suited to your personal situation. The best way to find out what intensity is right for you is to take the Buffalo Concussion Treadmill Test.


This is a treadmill test in which the incline is increased until the concussion symptoms triggered. A qualified physiotherapist in the treatment of concussions can administer this test.


Another way to calculate the intensity of the exercise you need to maintain is to calculate your maximum heart rate for your age (220 - age) and start at 50% of that value. Do a 20 minute exercise session (add a warm-up and a cool-down period), aiming to keep your heart rate as close to the calculated value as possible. If you don't have any symptoms, increase your target heart rate by 5% (which means you will be at 55% of your maximum heart rate for your age) the following day. If you experience mild symptoms, continue at the same level the next day. Continue in this way until you reach 80% of your max value. You will then be ready to resume your regular activities.


DO NOT DELAY


As we have mentioned in this article; after a concussion, it is very important to consult a healthcare professional specially trained in the treatment of concussions as soon as possible; it is the key factor to maximize your chances of a rapid full recovery. However, if you missed the initial 3-7 days window and your symptoms have persisted for more than a month, it is still highly recommended that you consult a professional who can help you with proper management to reduce and eventually eliminate your persistent symptoms following your concussion.


At Aurora Chinese Medicine, our acupuncturist Stephane Pepin is trained in the management and treatment of concussions. Contact us to make an appointment or learn more about what acupuncture and Chinese medicine can do for you.





 
  • Kontos et al. Association of Time Since Injury to the First Clinic Visit With Recovery Following Concussion. JAMA Neurology, 2020.

  • D’autres études ont des conclusions qui vont dans le même sens : Martinez et al., 2020 (Arch Physiotherapy), Eagle et al. 2020 (J Neurosurg Pediatrics), Pratile et al., 2020, CCMI.