Literature Review

Delayed clinical care after concussion may prolong recovery



Receiving clinical care within 1 week of a concussion is associated with faster recovery times, compared with having an initial clinic visit more than 1 week after the injury, according to a study published Jan. 6 in JAMA Neurology.

Dr. Anthony P. Kontos, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and research director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program

Dr. Anthony P. Kontos

In addition, more severe visual motion sensitivity symptoms are associated with longer recovery times, said lead author Anthony P. Kontos, PhD, and colleagues. Dr. Kontos is associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and the research director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

“Without clinical guidance and behavioral management recommendations post injury, athletes may have been engaging in counterproductive recovery strategies, such as a strict rest or excessive physical activity,” the authors said. “This explanation is supported by the fact that athletes recovered in a similar amount of time after that first evaluation.”

Various factors may influence recovery after a concussion, including age, sex, and comorbidities. To examine the relationship between time since injury at the start of clinical care and recovery time, the investigators conducted a retrospective, cross-sectional study. They analyzed data from patients seen in a sports medicine clinic between August 2016 and March 2018. Eligible patients were aged 12-22 years and had a diagnosed, symptomatic, sport-related concussion. The researchers excluded patients with incomplete recovery data.

The investigators included 162 patients in their analyses; 98 of these patients were seen within 7 days of the injury, and 64 were seen 8-20 days after a concussion. Both groups had a mean age of 15 years and similar proportions of female patients (52% in the early-care group vs. 62.5% in the late-care group). At the first clinical visit, symptom severity and cognitive, ocular, and vestibular test results were similar in both groups.

The researchers defined recovery time as the number of days from injury until the date of clearance for a full return to play. Physicians cleared patients to return to play when they returned to preinjury levels of symptoms and preinjury performance on cognitive, ocular, and vestibular tests with no increase in symptoms after exertion.

Patients’ recovery times ranged from 9 to 299 days; the average recovery time was 57 days. Fifty-two percent of patients in the early-care group recovered in 30 days or fewer, compared with 19% of patients in late-care group. Patients in the early-care group had a mean recovery of 51.1 days, whereas patients in the late-care group had a mean recovery of 66 days.

In a logistic regression model, late care “was associated with a 5.8-times increased likelihood of a recovery longer than 30 days,” the researchers reported. Visual motion sensitivity symptoms also were associated with increased odds of protracted recovery (adjusted odds ratio, 4.5).

“Once care was established, time to recovery did not differ for athletes evaluated within the first week of injury compared with those evaluated 2-3 weeks post injury,” Dr. Kontos and colleagues concluded. “Education on injury and behavioral recommendations to optimize concussion recovery and earlier initiation of active rehabilitation strategies, including exertion and vestibular therapy, are plausible explanations for the association of a shorter recovery time with earlier care. However, future research should focus on the specific mechanisms by which earlier health care postconcussion promotes faster recovery and determine if these findings apply to other subpopulations, including military personnel.”

The researchers noted that they excluded from their analysis 254 patients who had incomplete recovery data but otherwise met inclusion criteria, which may have led to selection bias.

Dr. Kontos disclosed grants from the National Football League and personal fees from APA Books and University of Pittsburgh projects outside the scope of this study.

SOURCE: Kontos AP et al. JAMA Neurol. 2020 Jan 6. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.4552.

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