Commonly-held post-concussion practices have been upended at U of T as researchers join a growing international consensus for concussion recovery by calling for less hiding away in a dark room and more activity.
On the frontline of this new research is U of T’s own Dr. Nick Reed, who is an associate professor at the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy. Reed, along with Dr. Roger Zemek from the University of Ottawa and the rest of their team, published an online resource in September called Brain Injury Guidelines, assembling the most up-to-date studies into a tool for patients and medical professionals alike.
Previous reccomendations suggested that concussion patients be prescribed what Reed calls a “bedroom jail,” effectively staying in a dark room until they are feeling better. Now, studies are finding that locking someone away from their life can lead to more harm than good.
Updated concussion guidelines recommend rest for the first 24–48 hours following the injury, as the cells in the brain are undergoing an energy crisis. “After those first couple of days, sort of 24–48 hours, we want to start gradually reintroducing activities which are tolerable,” Reed said in an interview with The Varsity.
Medical consensus says that concussions may cause volatile emotions, and so it’s important to take care of one’s mental health during recovery from a brain injury. With the everyday pressures faced by most U of T students, anxieties are only exacerbated as papers and midterms are pushed off to the near future while they are being told to take a break.
The greatest challenge faced by those resuming activities after a concussion is moderation. In the early stages, going to half of a lecture can sometimes make you feel more aware of what you may be missing. Students struggling with post-concussion symptoms should reach out to their faculty and use the supports and accommodations in place to find and keep their own pace.
Griffin Giles, who plays on the Varsity Blues men’s rugby team, experienced a concussion last October which “messed up [his] whole year.” Giles clarifies that while the university itself was very understanding, most of the pressure came from himself, as he didn’t want to take more than four years to graduate.
Giles spoke highly of U of T’s MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic and their staff. “U of T was really helpful”, said Giles. “They gave me extra time [on exams]; I could write them in a darkened room.”
“One of the goals of this guideline is to get everyone on the same page and to create a culture that supports the individual first and foremost,” Reed explains.
“At the end of the day, concussion is an injury that most people can recover quite well from,” said Reed. Having played lacrosse at U of T in the past, he is a strong advocate of “sports and the values sports instills,” but he wants to ensure people are “engaging in it safely.”
The Brain Injury Guideline is a living document, meaning it will remain up-to-date as new studies come out. “What we want to make sure is that this great product is used… We need to make sure people are aware of it, spread the word, and make sure that people are using this tool,” Reed said.