The timing for return to school after a concussion has been the subject of guidelines, but data on how the timing of school returns affects later symptom burdens are limited, Christopher G. Vaughan, PhD, of Children’s National Hospital, Rockville, Md., and colleagues wrote.
Examining how the timing of return to school (RTS) affects later symptoms is needed to inform early postinjury management, they said.
In thepublished in JAMA Network Open, the researchers identified 1,630 children and teens aged 5-18 years who were treated for concussions at nine Canadian pediatric EDs. The primary outcome was symptom burden at 14 days post concussion, based on the Post-Concussion Symptom Inventory (PCSI). Early RTS was defined as missing fewer than 3 days of school post concussion.
Overall, the mean number of missed school days was 3.74 (excluding weekends). When divided by age, the mean number of missed days was 2.61 for children aged 5-7 years, 3.26 for those aged 8-12 years, and 4.71 for those aged 13-18 years.
Slightly more than half (53.7%) of the participants had an early RTS of 2 missed days or fewer. Later RTS was most common in the oldest age group, followed by the middle and younger age groups.
The researchers used a propensity score–matched analysis to determine associations. At 14 days, an early RTS was associated with reduced symptoms among 8- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 18-year-olds, though not in the youngest patients aged 5-7 years. In addition, the researchers created quantiles based on initial symptom ratings.
For the youngest age group, the association between early RTS and reduced symptoms at day 14 was higher among those with lower initial symptoms.
For the two older groups, the association was higher for those with higher initial symptoms (based on the PCSI).
The findings that earlier RTS was associated with a lower symptom burden at day 14 for those with higher levels of symptoms at baseline was surprising, but the mechanisms of the timing and effect of RTS requires more study, the researchers wrote in their discussion.
The effect of early RTS on symptoms may be in part related to factors such as “the benefits of socialization, reduced stress from not missing too much school, maintaining or returning to a normal sleep-wake schedule, and returning to light to moderate physical activity (gym class and recreational activities),” the researchers noted.
Another study related to recovery and concussion recently appeared in Neurology. In, the authors found that those athletes who took a longer time to recover from a sports-related concussion could still return to play with additional time off, but the methods and populations differed from the current study, which focused on RTS rather than returning to play.
The current study findings were limited by several factors including the lack of randomization for RTS timing and a lack of data on the variety of potential supports and accommodations students received, the researchers noted.
However, the results were strengthened by the large size and diverse nature of the concussions, and the roughly equal representation of boys and girls, they said.
Although randomized trials are needed to determine the best timing for RTS, the current study suggests that RTS within 2 days of a concussion is associated with improved symptoms, “and may directly or indirectly promote faster recovery,” they concluded.