November 17, 2022 – Experts recommend that children and teens who have suffered a concussion should rest for a day or two before returning to light physical activity. Research shows that a slow return to normal helps young patients recover faster than strict rest.
now one new study suggests that going back to TikTok and Snapchat may also help.
After surveying 700 patients aged 8 to 16 after an injury, researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Calgary in Canada found that children and adolescents with a concussion recovered more quickly if they spent only a moderate amount of time before spent on the screen.
A “moderate” amount ranged from 2 to 7 hours per day on various screens. “That includes their phones, computers, and televisions,” says Molly Cairncross, PhD, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University who conducted the research.
People in the study who reported either less or more screen time in the 7 to 10 days after injury than they did in the 7 to 10 days also reported more symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue, in the first month. After this month Everyone Participants reported similar symptoms regardless of their early screen use — suggesting that screen time makes little difference in pediatric concussion recovery long-term.
The findings differ from a Study 2021 by University of Massachusetts Medical School researchers who found screen time slowed down Restoration. Why the contradicting results? “I think it comes down to differences in study design,” says Cairncross. While the previous study measured screen use over the first 48 hours and recovery over 10 days, “we focused on screen use over the first 7 to 10 days and tracked recovery over 6 months,” she says.
“Taken together, the studies suggest a need to strike a balance between not too little and not too much screen time for children and adolescents after a concussion,” says Cairncross.
Ultimately, the results support moderation rather than a blanket restriction of screen time as the best way to treat concussion in children, especially after the first 48 hours.
“Actually, it’s not surprising,” says Sarah Brittain, speech-language pathologist and founder of Colorado Brain Recovery in Wheat Ridge, CO, who was not involved with the study. “A controlled early return to cognitive and physical activity is really important. Sitting and resting in a dark room is not a solution and has been disproved in the literature.”
Old advice was to lie in a quiet, dark room for days, but recent evidence shows that such “cocoon therapy” can actually prolong symptoms.
“Over time, we found that this can negatively impact quality of life and depression scores, particularly in teenagers,” says Katherine Labiner, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Pediatrix Child Neurology Consultants in Austin, TX, who was not involved in the study .
So how could screens help? Labiner, Brittain and Cairncross all point to the importance of connections – not the internet way, but the social way. Children and young people use smartphones and computers to keep in touch with their peers. Banning screen time could therefore have a negative impact on mental health as it leads to loneliness, disconnection and lack of social support.
“Depression can prolong recovery,” says Brittain.
It’s worth noting that screen time might trigger visual symptoms in some patients, she says. “If someone feels worse within 2 minutes of looking at a screen, that’s a good indicator that screens aren’t working for them,” says Brittain. “If they get dizzy or dizzy when they’re on a screen, or the words on the screen look like they’re moving when they’re not, that means it’s time to retire.”
She advises parents to watch for behavioral changes such as increased moodiness, impatience and/or fatigue, which could mean the child has returned to screen time – or another activity – too early and should back off until symptoms subside.
“The most important thing to emphasize with a concussion is full recovery before a full return to activity,” says Labiner.