Rest may no longer be the best medicine for treating concussions

In a new study, researchers found the longer kids miss school after suffering a concussion, the longer their symptoms seem to linger.
Posted at 12:05 PM, Apr 13, 2023

It was a windy afternoon in 2013 when Hannah Parmenter was practicing soccer with her club team in Maryland. Before she could react, strong winds tipped over a soccer goal, hitting the then 11-year-old in the head not once, but twice. 

"I don't remember feeling any pain … It just felt very numb," Parmenter recalls.

She suffered a serious concussion after being knocked unconscious. She's now 21 and the impacts still stay with her today.

"It's hard for me to remember things," Parmenter continued. "When I do get a headache, it is a lot stronger than a normal headache would be."

According to the CDC, an estimated 1.7 million to 3 million young people suffer concussions each year while playing sports. 

At the time of Parmenter's injury, her treatment was a lot of rest.

"The whole thing happened around Christmastime, so I just laid on the couch watching movies," she recalls. 

But concussion treatment for young people could be undergoing a shift. And rest may no longer be best, according to researchers at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. 

"There was a time when a diagnosis involved a couple of fingers and if you could stand you could get back out there," said Dr. Chris Vaughan, a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children's National.

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Dr. Vaughan works with kids on a daily basis who have suffered a concussion. Over the years, Vaughan and his colleagues started noticing something: Kids who suffer concussions and immediately return back to school and daily life seem to recover faster. So they started studying what was happening.

"Kids that went back to school had lower symptom burdens two weeks later," Vaughan said. 

In a new study, Vaughan and his colleagues found that the longer kids miss school after suffering a concussion, the longer their symptoms seem to linger. The findings suggest there could actually be a therapeutic benefit for the brain from kids returning to school after a concussion because it helps their brain actively recover, in a sense, Vaughan said.

"I hope it reinforces a message growing over the last eight to 10 years: There really are things we can do to help treat kids with concussions. This is not a wait-until-it-gets-better type of injury," he added. 

Vaughan and his colleagues recommend parents with kids who suffer concussions:

• Push socialization

• Reduce stress from not missing too much school

• Maintain a normal sleep/wake schedule

• Return to light-to-moderate physical activity

"We don't want to just put kids in a dark room or sit at home until they don't feel difficulty concentrating," he said.