The Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Concussion Recovery: A Pilot Clinical Trial

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2021 Sep;27(8):790-804. doi: 10.1017/S1355617721000886.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to pilot safety and tolerability of a 1-week aerobic exercise program during the post-acute phase of concussion (14-25 days post-injury) by examining adherence, symptom response, and key functional outcomes (e.g., cognition, mood, sleep, postural stability, and neurocognitive performance) in young adults.

Method: A randomized, non-blinded pilot clinical trial was performed to compare the effects of aerobic versus non-aerobic exercise (placebo) in concussion patients. The study enrolled three groups: 1) patients with concussion/mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) randomized to an aerobic exercise intervention performed daily for 1-week, 2) patients with concussion/mTBI randomized to a non-aerobic (stretching and calisthenics) exercise program performed daily for 1-week, and 3) non-injured, no intervention reference group.

Results: Mixed-model analysis of variance results indicated a significant decrease in symptom severity scores from pre- to post-intervention (mean difference = -7.44, 95% CI [-12.37, -2.20]) for both concussion groups. However, the pre- to post-change was not different between groups. Secondary outcomes all showed improvements by post-intervention, but no differences in trajectory between the groups. By three months post-injury, all outcomes in the concussion groups were within ranges of the non-injured reference group.

Conclusions: Results from this study indicate that the feasibility and tolerability of administering aerobic exercise via stationary cycling in the post-acute time frame following post-concussion (14-25 days) period are tentatively favorable. Aerobic exercise does not appear to negatively impact recovery trajectories of neurobehavioral outcomes; however, tolerability may be poorer for patients with high symptom burden.

Keywords: Brain Injuries; Feasibility Studies; Neuropsychology; Public Health; Return to Sport; Sports.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries* / complications
  • Brain Concussion*
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Post-Concussion Syndrome* / etiology
  • Post-Concussion Syndrome* / therapy
  • Young Adult