Concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury, is a common, sometimes debilitating condition that reflects impairment of brain function (
). A mild traumatic brain injury can be caused by a direct or indirect hit, or force to the head or body, which can induce a range of symptoms that vary in duration, severity, and number between individuals (
The study looked for links between the self-reported screen time of more than 700 children aged 8-16 in the first 7-10 days following an injury, and symptoms reported by them and their caregivers over the following six months.
Moderate Screentime for Children Suffering from Concussion
The children whose concussion symptoms cleared up the fastest had engaged in a moderate amount of screen time. “We’ve been calling this the ‘Goldilocks’ group, because it appears that spending too little or too much time on screens isn’t ideal for concussion recovery,” said Dr. Molly Cairncross, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University who conducted the research. “Our findings show that the common recommendation to avoid smartphones, computers and televisions as much as possible may not be what’s best for kids.”
The data came from participants aged 8-16 who had suffered either a concussion or an orthopaedic injury, such as a sprained ankle or broken arm, and sought care at one of five emergency departments in Canada.
The purpose of including children who had orthopaedic injuries was to compare their recoveries with the group who had concussions.
Patients in the concussion group generally had relatively worse symptoms than their counterparts with orthopaedic injuries, but within the concussion group it was not simply a matter of symptoms worsening with more screen time. Children with minimal screen time recovered more slowly, too.
How does Screentime Benefit Concussed Children?
“Kids use smartphones and computers to stay connected with peers, so complete removal of those screens could lead to feelings of disconnection, loneliness and not having social support,” Dr. Cairncross said. “Those things are likely to have a negative effect on kids’ mental health and that can make recovery take longer.”
This study differed from previous research which tracked screen time and recovery over a longer period of time. It was seen that screen time slowed recovery, but it measured screen use only in the first 48 hours and symptoms for only 10 days.
Researchers also found that screentime during the early recovery period made little difference to long-term health outcomes. It was also reported that after 1 month, children who suffered a concussion or another type of injury reported similar symptoms, regardless of their early screen use.
The researchers also observed that screen time seemed to have less focus on symptoms than other factors such as the patient’s sex, age, sleep habits, physical activity or pre-existing symptoms.
In the long run, screen time does not make as much of a difference when compared to other factors. Concussion recovery factors include sleeping well and engaging in light physical activity. Staying away from smartphone screens is not adding much.
Ultimately, the research suggests that restrictions on screen time are not nearly as important as it was believed previously. Like all things, moderation is key and focusing on other ways of recovery. If symptoms exacerbate, screen time can always be limited.
- Exertion Testing in Youth with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury/Concussion
- Consensus statement on concussion in sport-the 5th international conference on concussion in sport held in Berlin, October 2016