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Study suggests aerobic exercise may shorten recovery times for concussions

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The University of Buffalo studied over a 100 adolescent athletes with sports-related concussions.

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FILE PHOTO - A ringside physician checks James Te Huna after being knocked out in a bout at UFC Brisbane on March 20th, 2016.
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A new study is calling into question whether rest is the right thing to do after you have suffered a concussion. Researchers at the University of Buffalo have determined that aerobic exercise may be more effective for recovery (per WHEC TV).

The study — titled Early Subthreshold Aerobic Exercise for Sport-Related Concussion — was published on JAMA Pediatr, a pediatrics medical journal, on February 4th. That paper described the randomized clinical trial that researchers conducted in order to measure the effectiveness of aerobic exercise in lessening the symptoms of sport-related concussions in adolescents.

The trial was conducted at the university’s concussion centers and featured 103 athletes aged between 13 and 18 years old who had suffered recent sports-related concussion. The athletes were randomly assigned either aerobic exercises or a simple stretching regimen (which acted like a placebo for this study).

According to WHEC TV the aerobic exercises included walking on a treadmill and riding a stationary bike. The stretching regimen was designed not to substantively raise the athletes’ heart-rates.

Both the aerobic exercises and the stretching regimens were performed for around 20 minutes per day with the participants reporting their daily symptoms.

At the end of the trial it was discovered that athletes who did the aerobic exercises reported no symptoms of concussion after an average time of 13 days. Athletes who did the stretching reported no symptoms of concussion after an average time of 17 days.

The athletes’ recoveries were confirmed by a physician who did not know what recovery group the athletes were assigned to.

The researchers behind the study believe this trial proves that aerobic exercise, prescribed to adolescents within the first week after they suffer a concussion, speeds recovery and may reduce the incidence of a delayed recovery.

However, it is unclear whether the same results would be mirrored within a group of adult patients. Also, though aerobic exercise may help adolescents not feel the short term affects of a concussion (headaches, light sensitivity, irritability, etc.), the study does not address whether aerobic exercises hinder the process by which concussions (and subconcussive blows) lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE, which is caused by the release of tau proteins which then clump together and decay parts of the organ, causes symptoms such as depression, impulsive behaviour, memory loss, cognitive impairment, and suicidal thoughts. The condition has been diagnosed in the brains of over 100 professional athletes and, to date, one mixed martial arts fighter.