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New research on concussions recovery finds exercise better than rest

Dr. John Leddy sits next to brain images on two computer screens
University at Buffalo
The University at Buffalo's Dr. John Leddy.

New University at Buffalo research found exercise like running or walking fast is an effective way to help adolescents recover from a concussion.

The traditional approach after a concussion was staying in a dark room for days. That's wrong, according to a study of 118 adolescents treated at hospitals here, in Boston and in Philadelphia.

The study takes advantage of the determined nature of young athletes, anxious to work really hard to make and stay on a sports team and to work as hard to recover from a concussion, starting within days of the injury, with medical clearance and supervision.

Dr. John Leddy, medical director of UB's Concussion Management Clinic, said each adolescent gets an individualized plan.

"A dose of exercise of medicine that's unique to each one of them. And I think that's largely why it works," Leddy said. "Remember you can use that obsession to your advantage because athletes are goal oriented and now you've given them a goal to work to every day. If they do it every day, they have a goal and they have some control over their recovery."

He said the patients are given screening and work with heart rate monitors to make sure they didn't overdo it, whether running, swimming or using exercise equipment.

The study also found the increased number of girls who suffer concussions, particularly playing soccer, can recover in that same shorter time-frame using the new exercise system. Leddy said it's not clear why girls seem more prone to concussions in some sports, but work with doctors in treatment.

"Girls also respond to the injury a little differently than boys. They're more tuned to their symptoms and feelings, so they tend to report more," he said. "They probably get more involvement of their balance system than boys do. So there's a number of reasons, we're not exactly sure, but probably a combination of things."

Leddy said the research results could also work for members of the military with concussions.

"Get at the soldiers' effects from concussions early on, before they have full-on symptoms, and use exercise to help them recover faster, get back to duty," Leddy said. "I think it has direct relevance to the military. They are typically older than the patients we study in high school sports, obviously, but they're more like college-age patients, young adults."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.