Why Do College Students Need More Time to Recover After a Concussion?

An adult takes 7 to 14 days, on average, to recover from a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Researchers led by Dr. Prakash Jayabalan, MD, PhD, of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recently presented research which demonstrated college students need even more time.

Rest is the cornerstone of recovery for someone recovering from a concussion. The brain heals best when avoiding stimulation from computer screens and televisions, reading, writing, and physically demanding tasks such as playing sports. For many college students, this list of activities to avoid reads like their daily schedule.

The study was limited to students who had been diagnosed with a concussion in the 2014-2015 school year at Northwestern University in Chicago. Factors included the students’ level of activity, participation in organized sports, gender, prior history of concussion and level of coursework.

Female students reported symptoms lasting an average of 21 days, nearly a week longer than males reported (15 days). Student athletes, perhaps due to the specialized medical attention provided by the university, experienced quicker recoveries (12 days) than those who participated in club (19 days) or recreational sports (23 days).

Notably, graduate students took nearly twice as long to heal when compared to their undergraduate counterparts (31 and 16 days respectively).

What Does this Study Mean for the Concussed Students?

It is difficult to treat college students for concussions because the demands of their coursework and extracurriculars don’t allow for sufficient periods of rest, which are required for recovery.

Doctors can inform concussed students that they should not be comparing themselves to the “normal” recovery timeline, such as the one suggested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They can expect to deal with symptoms such as memory loss, sleep disturbances, confusion, disorientation, visual disturbances, balance problems, etc., for anywhere from the standard 7-14 days, to up to a month, depending on their situation.

Of course, this study deals specifically with averages, but not everyone’s situation is average. Some of the outliers may heal more quickly than the stated numbers and others may have permanent deficits from brain damage which will never heal.

The safest thing to do if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a concussion is to see your doctor, give them a full medical history and get as much rest as your schedule will allow. Download our free guide, The Layman’s Guide to Brain Injuries, to learn more about what to expect after you’ve been diagnosed with a concussion/TBI.

Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP). "College students take longer to recover from a concussion." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 February 2017. .
https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/pdf/tbi_report_to_congress_epi_and_rehab-a.pdf

Michele Ross
Attorney, English instructor and adventurer dedicated to helping others.
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