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Limiting screen time after a concussion can improve recovery, study finds

Staying away from electronics can help reduce symptoms in the first days after injury

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Photo (c) Steve Debenport - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School explored how using electronic devices may be impacting kids’ concussion recovery. 

Their findings showed that limiting screen time — especially in the first two days after injury — can help shorten concussion symptoms and lead to a faster recovery. 

“It’s one thing parents and children always ask in the emergency department,” said researcher Dr. Theodore E. Macnow. “Is screen time allowed? We’re still learning how to treat concussions and there are no clear recommendations regarding screen time. Nobody has yet looked at this question in a rigorous way. We wanted to get a better handle on this question, so we conducted a randomized clinical trial.” 

Improving recovery

The researchers analyzed the health outcomes of 125 patients between the ages of 12 and 25 following a concussion. One group of the participants was allowed to proceed with their regular electronics use, while another group was told to avoid looking at electronic screens in the first 48 hours. All of the participants completed Post-Concussion Symptom Scale (PCSS) questionnaires for the first 10 days following the head injury. 

The study showed that spending a lot of time in front of screens within the first two days of a head injury may prolong the recovery time. On the other hand, keeping screen time short in the early days of concussion recovery can help shorten the duration of symptoms. 

The group that stayed off of screens recovered in about 3.5 days, while the group that used their devices during recovery experienced symptoms for about eight days. 

Though the team plans to do more work in this area to better understand the ways that screen time can impact concussion recovery, especially long term, they encourage health care providers and parents to minimize children’s screen time as much as possible after a head injury. 

“These findings support the conclusion that brief screen time abstinence following a concussion is associated with a faster recovery,” said Dr. Macnow. “Given this data, preliminary clinical recommendations should be to limit screen time. It’s not clear why screen time exacerbated concussion symptoms, but there are a lot of reasons to suspect it’s not good.” 

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