Light activity speeds recovery from sports concussion

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MADISON, Wis. - The International Conference on Concussions in Sport is recommending a change to protocol that would have athletes begin light activity one or two days after getting a concussion.

The recommendation is a change from the cocooning protocol that had athletes shut down activity for 10 to 14 days.

“The guideline was saying we have to have 10 to 14 days of rest. We really need to isolate the athlete. They can’t exercise, they can’t participate in school and they can’t do media. So things like looking at a phone, watching TV, playing games, that’s all shut down,” said Liz Chumanov, an advanced clinician in sports rehabilitation with UW Health.

Research now shows the cocooning protocol has an adverse effect on the recovery of the athlete.

“With a concussion you have an athlete who is a very highly active individual and you shut them down. So the old thought process of, let’s shut them down for 10 to 14 days, well they are going to get a cascade of depression type symptoms because you’ve shut them down from their activity,” Chumanov said.

Concussions do require time for the injury to the brain to heal, but introducing light activity in the days following speeds up the recovery of the athlete.

One or two days after sustaining a concussion, athletes are introduced to light activity. If concussion symptoms do not return, the activity level is increased the following day. The research shows that, in many cases, an athlete can return to competition after one week, but that can vary by the individual.

“The new thought process is, and there is literature to support it, these are highly active individuals. If we get them active again, we can stop that cascade of symptoms and hopefully prevent some of those individuals who actually go on to more of a prolonged recovery,” Chumanov said.

UW Health has been utilizing a concussion protocol that gets athletes active after one or two days for the last five years. By gradually increasing activity, if no concussion symptoms return, they have seen improvements in the quality and speed of recovery.

To read the statement issued by the International Conference on Concussions, visit the British Journal of Sports Medicine website.

For more information on the concussion protocol used by UW Health, visit their website at

It is important for any athlete who may have sustained a concussion to be seen by a physician and consult with them before deciding on a recovery protocol.