Early clinical treatment may significantly reduce recovery time following a concussion, a new study shows.

The findings, in JAMA Neurology, suggest delays in seeking treatment can lead to unnecessarily longer recovery.

“Our study emphasizes the importance of seeking appropriate, specialized care early on,” says senior author Anthony Kontos, research director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Sports Concussion Program. “Delaying clinical care following a concussion leaves patients to deal with symptoms on their own and negates the positive effects of early and targeted interventions.”

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a jolt to the head or body that disrupts the function of the brain. The injury can result in physical, cognitive, emotional, and/or sleep-related symptoms that may or may not involve a loss of consciousness. The symptoms can last from several minutes, to days, weeks, months, or longer.

Kontos and his team analyzed 162 athletes with diagnosed concussion injuries between the ages of 12 and 22 years. Athletes treated within the first week of injury recovered faster than athletes who did not receive care until eight days to three weeks after injury.

Once in care, the length of time spent recovering was the same for athletes evaluated within the first week of injury compared to those evaluated eight days to three weeks post-injury, indicating the days before initial clinical care was the primary driver for the longer recovery duration.

“Early clinical care including behavioral management interventions and targeted exertion, vestibular and oculomotor rehabilitation exercises also may minimize missed time at work, school, or sports, helping the patient return to a normal routine sooner,” says Michael “Micky” Collins, executive and clinical director of the University of Pittsburgh Sports Medicine Program.

Future research should look into the biological reasons why earlier engagement with care promotes faster recovery, as well as explore whether their findings could apply to other types of patients, such as military personnel, Kontos says.

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