For many years neurologists have been advising kids with sports-related concussions to give their brains a rest by not only avoiding any physical activity, but also, by taking a rest from cognitive challenges such as reading, texting or playing video games for several days. However, that advice was never backed by evidence that it did help the brain to heal faster, until now. A new study conducted by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital followed 335 student athletes who were treated for concussions incurred on the playing field. The researchers found that those who took the most time off from tasks that required a lot of thinking had the quickest recovery from headaches, dizziness, nausea, and other concussion symptoms. The majority of the individuals who got the most cognitive rest were symptom-free 40 days after their head injury, conversely, it took 100 days for symptoms to resolve for those who got the least amount of rest, according to the study.
Though the study was not able to determine exactly how much rest was optimal, study coauthor Dr. William Meehan said that the results confirmed the sensibility of recommendations to avoid mental challenges right after a concussion. “For the first three to five days, we tell our patients with concussions that they should really aim to be at a zero level or complete cognitive rest,” said Meehan, director of the sports concussion clinic at Boston Children’s. This means no reading, texting, homework, or video game playing. Basically it is fine to lie in bed quietly watching TV or listing to music on a low volume.
“Those experiencing severe symptoms may prefer to be resting anyway,” Meehan said, “but those with mild symptoms may think they can go back to school or resume exercise right away, which may delay their recovery.” After a few days, kids can slowly start to add mental activities such as sending a few text messages to see how they feel. If their symptoms exacerbate, they should go back to resting.
For managing concussions, the American Academy of Pediatric states, “cognitive rest is recommended and may include a temporary leave of absence from school, shortening of the school day, reduction of workload, and an allowance of more time to complete assignments or take tests.” Rest and time are the only proven remedies that work to heal the injury, so if your child gets a head injury, make sure they slow down for a bit and get some rest.