Some screen time better than none during children’s concussion recovery

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 64, No. 10, December 2022, Page 426 News

While too much screen time can slow children’s recovery from concussions, new research from the University of British Columbia and the University of Calgary suggests that banning screen time is not the answer.

Researchers 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 6 months. Children whose concussion symptoms cleared up the fastest had engaged in a moderate amount of screen time.

The study was part of a larger project called Advancing Concussion Assessment in Pediatrics led by psychology professor Dr Keith Yeates at the University of Calgary and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. 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.

Dr Molly Cairncross, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University, conducted the research as a postdoctoral fellow working with associate professor Dr Noah Silverberg in UBC’s Department of Psychology. Dr Cairncross offers that because kids use smartphones and computers to stay connected with peers, complete removal of those screens could lead to feelings of disconnection, loneliness, and not having social support, which are likely to have a negative effect on kids’ mental health, and that can make recovery take longer.

Additionally, the longer study timeline led to another finding—the amount of time spent in front of screens during the early recovery period made little difference to long-term health outcomes. After 30 days, children who suffered a concussion or another type of injury reported similar symptoms, regardless of their early screen use.

Researchers also observed that screen time seemed to have less bearing on symptoms than other factors, such as the patient’s sex, age, sleep habits, physical activity, or pre-existing symptoms, and emphasized that encouraging concussion patients to sleep well and gradually engage in light physical activity will likely do more for their recovery than keeping them off their smartphones. Ultimately, the findings suggest that using the same approach as with other activities—moderation—is of most help to children and adolescents with concussion. If symptoms flare up, screen time can always be limited.

The study, “Early postinjury screen time and concussion recovery,” was published in Pediatrics:


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. Some screen time better than none during children’s concussion recovery. BCMJ, Vol. 64, No. 10, December, 2022, Page(s) 426 - News.

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