UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Emergency department patients with mTBI prescribed light exercise

Keywords: Concussion, mTBI, exercise prescription (PubMed Search)

Posted: 4/10/2021 by Brian Corwell, MD (Updated: 6/25/2022)
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Study Question:  A recent study investigated whether adult patients presenting to the ED with a diagnosis of mTBI prescribed light exercise were less likely to develop persistent postconcussion symptoms.

Setting:  Randomized controlled trial conducted in three Canadian EDs. Consecutive, adults (18–64 years) seen in ED with a mTBI sustained within the preceding 48 hours.

The intervention group received discharge instructions prescribing 30 minutes of daily light exercise.

The control group was given standard mTBI instructions advising gradual return to exercise following symptom resolution.

Outcome:  The primary outcome was the proportion of patients with postconcussion symptoms at 30 days,

A total of 367 patients were enrolled. Median age was 32 years Male 43%/Female 57%.

Result:  There was no difference in the proportion of patients with postconcussion symptoms at 30 days. There were no differences in median change of concussion testing scores, median number of return PCP visits, median number of missed school or work days, or unplanned return ED visits within 30 days. Participants in the control group reported fewer minutes of light exercise at 7 days (30 vs 35).


Prescribing light exercise for acute mTBI, demonstrated no differences in recovery or health care utilization outcomes.

Extrapolating from studies in the athletic population, there may be a patient benefit for light exercise prescription.

Make sure that the patient is only exercising to their symptomatic threshold as we recommend with concussed athletes. Previous studies have shown that athletes with the highest post injury activity levels had poorer visual memory and reaction time scores than those with moderate activity levels.





Varner et al. A randomized trial comparing prescribed light exercise to standard management for emergency department patients with acute mild traumatic brain injury. Acad Emerg Med. 2021.