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Evidence-Based Physiatry

Evidence-Based Physiatry

The Center for Disease Control Guideline on Pediatric Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and the Expanded Role of Physiatry

Iaccarino, Mary Alexis MD; Paganoni, Sabrina MD, PhD; Zafonte, Ross DO

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American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation: January 2019 - Volume 98 - Issue 1 - p 84-85
doi: 10.1097/PHM.0000000000001073
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A mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or concussion is the most commonly occurring type of traumatic brain injury in adults and children. Between 2005 and 2009, the United States Center for Disease Control estimated 2–3 million pediatric mTBI-related emergency department and primary care visits occurred. Although there are subtle variation in definitions of mTBI, a consensus has formed around defining this injury as an acute neurological disturbance manifesting with confusion and/or disorientation after a mechanical force to the head and meeting the following parameters: (1) length of loss of consciousness of less than 30 mins; (2) posttraumatic amnesia less than 24 hrs; and (3) a Glasgow Coma Scale of 13–15, 30 mins after injury or at time of presentation to medical care.

Guidelines have emerged to direct treatment of specific groups that commonly sustain mTBI, such as the Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport directed at student athletes, the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation guidelines for those with mTBI and persistent symptoms, and Veteran’s Affairs/Department of Defense guidelines for mTBI in military service members and veterans. However, evidence based guidelines for pediatric mTBI in the United States were lacking until the most recently published Center for Disease Control Guideline on the Diagnosis and Management of mTBI among Children (


The new Center for Disease Control guideline is a set of 19 recommendations based on a systematic review of the literature and expert consensus. Clinical questions were developed by the Pediatric Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Work Group, a panel of experts that included rehabilitation specialists and physiatrists. Guidelines were developed in three clinical areas diagnosis, prognosis, and management/treatment. A systematic review of pediatric mTBI and related topics from 1990 to 2015 was conducted using the American Academy of Neurology Guidelines. Each recommendation was based on evidence obtained in the systematic review as well as other relevant scientific information and expert opinion deemed significant by the work group.

This work considered strength of evidence as well as additional factors, such as the risks and benefits of the recommendation, importance of the recommendation, feasibility, patient preference, and financial cost.


These guidelines outline a series of practical and feasible recommendations for emergency department, primary care, and specialty providers focusing on readily available mTBI assessment tools, early identification of poor prognostic factors, and education and active rehabilitation as mainstays of treatment. A complete list of recommendations is located in the guideline supplement and patient and family resources are available online (

In summary, the guideline recommends against the routine use of neuroimaging or serum based biomarkers for diagnosis of mTBI, except when intracranial injury is suspected. Age-appropriate symptom inventories and computer-based cognitive testing should not be used alone but in conjunction with clinical assessment. In the area of prognosis, the guidelines strongly support education of patients and families about the general course of recovery in pediatric mTBI (1–3 mos) and risk factors that are associated with prolonged recovery (premorbid conditions, injury, and noninjury-related factors). Close monitoring of individuals with multiple risk factors for prolonged symptoms and referral to specialty care within 4–6 weeks of injury if symptoms persist.

The guidelines strongly support education of patients and families regarding warning signs in the acute period, the emergence of postconcussive symptoms, prevention of a second, overlapping head injury, and guidance for return to school and activity. Although rest was once the mainstay of concussion treatment, the guideline emphasizes a brief period (2–3 days) of reduced activity in the acute period followed by a gradual return to school and noncontact physical activity that does not exacerbate symptoms. The guideline supports the use of individualized return to school plans based on symptom severity and highlights the importance of a collaborative effort in return to school recommendations. Referral specialists and formal neuropsychological testing is recommended in students struggling with return to school or with persistent cognitive symptoms, respectively. Treatment recommendations focus on multidisciplinary care and dedicated symptom-based treatments for acute and chronic headache, sleep dysfunction, and vestibular and oculomotor symptoms are provided.


Physiatrists are uniquely positioned to care for children with mTBI because of their role in leading multidisciplinary rehabilitation teams and their specific clinical expertise in pediatric rehabilitation, sports medicine, and traumatic brain injury. The guideline recommends referral to specialty and rehabilitation care in the early subacute period meaning that the number of children with mTBI referred to specialists, such as physiatry, will likely increase. The guideline supports a paradigm shift in the treatment of mTBI from a rest and recover model to an active rehabilitation, symptom-based approach including physical activity, cognitive activity, and specialized rehabilitation (i.e., vestibular). Such an approach is an ideal forum to leverage physiatric skills.


1. Lumba-Brown A, Yeates KO, Sarmiento K, et al.: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline on the diagnosis and management of mild traumatic brain injury among children. JAMA Pediatr 2018;e182853
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