Doctors no longer tell patients with a concussion to rest in a dark room. In fact, research has shown that moderate to physical activity within the first week of a concussion can actually speed up recovery.
There are many different forms of aerobic exercise such as running, cycling, brisk walking or swimming. Light to moderate aerobic exercise improves blood flow to the brain by providing it with oxygen and essential nutrients Exercise can also stimulate the release of bio-chemicals, encouraging cell growth and improving neuroplasticity.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is produced naturally within the human body. It promotes the growth and production of neurons and helps to increase synaptic plasticity, thus improving communication between cells within the brain. Elevated levels of this protein are produced if you exercise regularly, speeding up concussion recovery and improving long-term cognitive health.
In the United States, Buffalo University have undertaken research into aerobic exercise and its benefits on concussion recovery. From their findings, they have created the Buffalo Concussion Treadmill Test (better known as the Buffalo Protocol). It helps to identify exercise intolerance in patients with a concussion.
The treadmill test involves setting a base speed for a brisk walk. To increase the pace of walk the incline is increased on a graded basis (1o per minute). As the elevation increases, a measurement of physical exhaustion and/or exercise intolerance is taken with heart-rate monitors. In this way, the patient’s exercise intolerance is gauged. Working with a physiotherapist, this data can then be used to design an appropriate recovery / ‘return to exercise’ programme.
Overall, it may be noted that aerobic exercise has been shown to speed-up recovery from concussions by reducing inflammation and promoting neuroplasticity.
However, it must be noted that a gradual return to exercise is important – it’s important that you do not overexert yourself and cause exacerbation of concussion symptoms. Always get advice from a healthcare professional before implementing a new protocol into your recovery programme.
By Jessica Bleasdale