Importance: Although concussion treatment guidelines advocate rest in the immediate postinjury period until symptoms resolve, no clear evidence has determined that avoiding physical activity expedites recovery.
Objective: To investigate the association between participation in physical activity within 7 days postinjury and incidence of persistent postconcussive symptoms (PPCS).
Design, setting, and participants: Prospective, multicenter cohort study (August 2013-June 2015) of 3063 children and adolescents aged 5.00-17.99 years with acute concussion from 9 Pediatric Emergency Research Canada network emergency departments (EDs).
Exposures: Early physical activity participation within 7 days postinjury.
Main outcomes and measures: Physical activity participation and postconcussive symptom severity were rated using standardized questionnaires in the ED and at days 7 and 28 postinjury. PPCS (≥3 new or worsening symptoms on the Post-Concussion Symptom Inventory) was assessed at 28 days postenrollment. Early physical activity and PPCS relationships were examined by unadjusted analysis, 1:1 propensity score matching, and inverse probability of treatment weighting (IPTW). Sensitivity analyses examined patients (≥3 symptoms) at day 7.
Results: Among 2413 participants who completed the primary outcome and exposure, (mean [SD] age, 11.77 [3.35] years; 1205 [39.3%] females), PPCS at 28 days occurred in 733 (30.4%); 1677 (69.5%) participated in early physical activity including light aerobic exercise (n = 795 [32.9%]), sport-specific exercise (n = 214 [8.9%]), noncontact drills (n = 143 [5.9%]), full-contact practice (n = 106 [4.4%]), or full competition (n = 419 [17.4%]), whereas 736 (30.5%) had no physical activity. On unadjusted analysis, early physical activity participants had lower risk of PPCS than those with no physical activity (24.6% vs 43.5%; Absolute risk difference [ARD], 18.9% [95% CI,14.7%-23.0%]). Early physical activity was associated with lower PPCS risk on propensity score matching (n = 1108 [28.7% for early physical activity vs 40.1% for no physical activity]; ARD, 11.4% [95% CI, 5.8%-16.9%]) and on inverse probability of treatment weighting analysis (n = 2099; relative risk [RR], 0.74 [95% CI, 0.65-0.84]; ARD, 9.7% [95% CI, 5.7%-13.7%]). Among only patients symptomatic at day 7 (n = 803) compared with those who reported no physical activity (n = 584; PPCS, 52.9%), PPCS rates were lower for participants of light aerobic activity (n = 494 [46.4%]; ARD, 6.5% [95% CI, 5.7%-12.5%]), moderate activity (n = 176 [38.6%]; ARD, 14.3% [95% CI, 5.9%-22.2%]), and full-contact activity (n = 133 [36.1%]; ARD, 16.8% [95% CI, 7.5%-25.5%]). No significant group difference was observed on propensity-matched analysis of this subgroup (n = 776 [47.2% vs 51.5%]; ARD, 4.4% [95% CI, -2.6% to 11.3%]).
Conclusions and relevance: Among participants aged 5 to 18 years with acute concussion, physical activity within 7 days of acute injury compared with no physical activity was associated with reduced risk of PPCS at 28 days. A well-designed randomized clinical trial is needed to determine the benefits of early physical activity following concussion.