How Do Brain Injuries Occur

The impact of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be wide-ranging. The effects can be minor and short-term or they can be severe and long-lasting or even life-long. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TBI is a major cause of disability and death among American citizens. In fact, in 2020, an estimated 176 Americans died as a result of TBI-related injuries, and more than 223,000 patients were hospitalized with injuries they suffered after a brain injury in 2019.

Brain injuries can occur for a number of reasons. No matter the severity of the injuries and the impact those injuries, all TBIs are considered serious and require immediate medical attention; therefore, being aware of the causes of this condition is important so that in the event you or someone you love sustains an injury, you are aware of what to look out for and can receive the necessary medical care.

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury id defined as an injury that negatively impacts the function of the brain; in other words, how it works. Sudden and/or forceful jolts, bumps, or blows to the head, as well as penetrating injuries to the head are all factors that can contribute to a traumatic brain injury.

The effects of a TBI vary and depend on the severity of the injury, as well as the part of the brain that was injured. Regardless, individuals who sustain injuries to the brain can experience health complications that can last a few days, that are long-lasting (the symptoms remain for several years), or that permanent (the individual exhibits health complications related to the injury for the rest of his or her life). Those who suffer mild damage can usually recovery safely at home after receiving a medical assessment, while people who sustain moderate to severe injuries may require life-long care.

What Causes Traumatic Brain Injuries?

As mentioned, traumatic brain injuries can occur when an individual sustains a rapid and/or forceful blow, jolt, or bump to the head, or a penetrating wound to the head. The sudden and forceful movement can impact the brain in a number of ways. It can cause the brain to twist or bounce around within the skull; for example, the brain can collide with the front of the skull and then quickly move backward, colliding with the back of the skull, or it can move in an up-and-down fashion within the skull. The impact can alter chemicals within the brain; minimizing the production of key chemicals, or preventing production of key chemicals altogether. Thirdly, the sudden and/or forceful impact to the head can stretch or damage the brain cells.

No matter the cause, the changes to the brain can result in numerous symptoms that can impact the way in which an individual thinks, learns, acts, feels, and sleeps.

Sudden and/or forceful jolts, blows, and bumps to the head aren’t the only factors that can contribute to TBI; penetrating wounds to the head can, too. Penetrating brain injuries, as the name implies, occur when something penetrates the skull, as well as the brain. Examples of objects that can cause a penetrating injury include bullets and broken pieces of skull.

What Kind of Events Can Cause a TBI?

Any incident that involves a rapid and/or forceful blow, bump, or jolt to the head, or a penetrating wound to the skull and brain, can cause a traumatic brain injury. With that said, the following are some of the most common events that can cause a TBI. • Slips and falls. Slips and falls are among the most common factors that contribute to traumatic brain injuries. Examples can include falling out of bed, off a ladder, down stairs, in the shower, off a roof, or on a wet floor. In a slip and fall accident, an individual’s head can bump into a surface, such as a floor, or he or she can experience a rapid jolt to the head; in either case, the movement can cause the brain to bounce or twist within the skull, stretch and damage the brain cells, or can change chemicals within the brain. • Vehicle-related collisions. Collisions involving vehicles, such as cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles, are another common cause of traumatic brain injury. Not only can individuals operating the vehicle, as well as any passengers that may be in the vehicle, suffer a TBI, but if pedestrians are involved in the collision, they can sustain traumatic brain injuries, as well. In a car crash, for example, the driver’s head can hit into the steering wheel, or the body can jolt backward and forward in a rapid fashion, and the blow or bump to the head, or the jolt to the body, can result in damage to the brain. • Acts of violence. Violent acts are another cause of traumatic brain injury. Examples include gunshot wounds, domestic abuse and child abuse, and other violent assaults are all incidents that can result in a jolt to the body, a bump or blow to the head, or penetration through the skull and brain. Shaken baby syndrome is an act of violence that involves shaking a baby back-and-forth or side-to-side in a violent manner, and the rapid, forceful movement causes the brain to literally bounce around or twist within the skull. • Sports and recreational injuries. A number of sports and recreational activities can result in traumatic brain injury. Soccer, football, boxing, baseball, lacrosse, hockey, skateboarding, cycling, skydiving, and other high-impact or extreme sports or recreational activities can cause bumps or blows to the head, or sudden and/or forceful jolting to the body, that can rock or twist the brain within the skull. Extreme blows or bumps can also cause a piece of the skull to break off and penetrate the brain. • Explosive blasts and combat injuries. In active-duty service members, explosive blasts and other combat injuries are common causes of traumatic brain injuries. While the reason for the damage to the brain is not well-known, it is believed that pressure waves from blasts can pass through the brain, which can severely disrupt brain function. Shrapnel debris that occurs during a blast or other forms of combat can penetrate the skull and brain, resulting in a penetrating TBI.

Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries

Any forceful and/or sudden blow or bump to the head, jolt to the body, or penetration of the skull, can result in a traumatic brain injury. The impact and severity can vary widely. Medical professionally usually classify TBIs in one of four main types, utilizing the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), a scoring system that assesses the patient’s level of consciousness after the injury.

Comprised of 15 points, each point on the GCS measures different physical and cognitive functions, such as the ability to open the eyes, speech, and hearing. The more points a patient scores, the greater his or her level of function, or the lower the severity of his or her injury. The fewer points a patient sores, the lower his or her level of function, or the greater the severity of his or her injury. The four levels of severity for a TBI, based on GCS scoring, include the following: • Mild TBI or concussion. GCS score of 13 to 15 points • Moderate TBI. GCS score of 9 to 12 points • Severe TBI. GCS score of 4 to 8 points • Persistent vegetative state. GCS score of 3 points The higher the severity of the individual’s brain injury, the longer it may take him or her to recover; however, in severe cases of TBI, the damage may be long-lasting or life-long. In fact, brain injury lawyers utilize GCS to assess the severity of TBIs.

In addition to the above classifications, traumatic brain injuries are grouped into two primary categories: • Closed injuries. Brain injuries that do not fracture the skull are considered closed injuries. In other words, the brain either rocks or bounces back and forth, or twists around in the skull. • Open injuries. When the skull bone breaks or is penetrated by a foreign object, the brain is exposed to the elements. This is referred to as an open injury.