A new study suggests that athletes who recover more slowly from concussions may be able to return to play with an additional month of recovery beyond their usual recovery time, according to a new study published in the January 18, 2023 online issue of Neurology®Medical Journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Slow recovery was defined as taking more than 14 days for symptoms to go away or taking more than 24 days to return to play, both of which are considered the typical recovery times for about 80% of athletes with concussions.
“Although an athlete may experience slow or delayed recovery, there is reason to believe that recovery can be achieved with more time and injury management,” said study author Thomas W. McAllister of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “This is an encouraging message that may help alleviate some of the frustration athletes feel when trying to return to their sport. And while some athletes took longer than 24 days to return to play, we found that three-quarters of them would have been able to return to sports if given an extra month to recover.”
The study looked at 1,751 college athletes who had been diagnosed with a concussion by their team physician. Of the athletes, 63% were male and 37% were female. Male athletes primarily participated in football, soccer, and basketball. Female athletes were primarily involved in soccer, volleyball, and basketball.
Participants were assessed five times: within six hours after injury, one to two days later, once symptom-free, once symptom-free to return to play and six months later.
Participants reported symptoms daily to medical staff, up to 14 days after injury and then weekly if they had not yet returned to play.
A total of 399 athletes, or 23%, had a slow recovery.
Researchers found that among athletes who took more than 24 days to return to action, more than three-quarters, or 78%, were able to return to play within 60 days of injury, and four-fifths, or 83%, were able to return to action. To return to play within 90 days of injury. Only 11% have not returned to play six months after the injury.
For the slow recovery group, the average time to return to play was 35 days after injury, compared to 13 days in the total group.
“The results of this study provide useful information for medical athletes and teams to consider assessing expectations and making difficult decisions about medical ineligibility and the value of continuing with their sport,” McAllister said.
A limitation of the study is that the participants were all collegiate athletes and may not represent other age groups or levels of athleticism, and the findings may not apply to other types of mild brain injury.
The study was supported by the Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education Consortium of the Grand Alliance, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the Department of Defense.