Ohio State researchers discovered that the use of a mobile app can help teenagers and young athletes recover from concussions more effectively.

Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center used the app, SuperBetter, to study how social interaction could alleviate post-concussion symptoms.

In the study, 19 participants, all of whom had concussions, were split into two groups. One group used the app in addition to standard medical care; the other received only standard medical care. The results showed patients who used the app evaluated better in their recovery process and overall feeling of optimism after a brain-related injury than the other group.

Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, a researcher at the medical center and co-author of the study, said concussions are common brain injuries among teenagers, specifically young athletes. Though conventional medical care helps patients recover from physical ailments and symptoms, this form of care could also cause patients to have issues socializing, Worthen-Chaudhari said.  

“Traditional medicine falls short of bringing teens with persistent concussion symptoms to full recovery,” Worthen-Chaudhari said. “The solutions we currently have [for those with concussion] are double-edged swords. They might help some of the symptoms, but they hurt in other ways.”

Concussion-patients are typically prohibited from using mobile devices post-injury, due to the heightened negative effects of prolonged screen-viewing with concussion symptoms.

However, since teenagers use mobile technology as a main source of social interaction and entertainment, this treatment deprives them of the most important avenue for social support, said Marcia Bockbrader, a researcher at the medical center and co-author of the study.

She said the feeling of isolation some teenagers experience without using their mobile devices often leads to depression and slows their recovery process.

“The positivity and the sense of optimism is very important to people’s feeling better and getting over those symptoms in the long run,” Bockbrader said.

The app, available for download in Apple and Android app stores, is an adventure game that allows patients to confront and combat concussion symptoms, such as headache and fatigue. During the game, the symptoms are presented as villains for the patients to defeat.  

Patients can ally with their families, medical providers or other patients to battle against the villains. The peer support — the allies in the app — help patients improve both physically and mentally, with a strengthened sense of optimism, said Bockbrader.  

In contrast to traditional treatments, the app leverages teenagers’ familiarity with social media and channels their skills into creating supportive social networks, which complements conventional medical care and helps them to recover faster.

“Giving people a constructive, positive thing to do about the symptoms helps them feel more empowered,” Bockbrader said. “It changes their behaviors and makes them feel less alone.”