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Head Injuries

Today, the treatment for head injuries and head trauma is more advanced than ever before. In addition, taking measures to prevent head injuries is now common practice and often mandatory in dangerous professions and recreation activities.

If you have suffered a head injury, even a previous injury, and are experiencing negative effects, take steps now to build a treatment plan with a Banner Brain & Spine neurologist or head trauma specialist.

What Is a Head Injury?

There are many different types of head injuries. Head injuries are characterized by any degree of injury to the brain, skull or scalp. The degree of injury can range from a mild bump or light bruising to a serious or life-threatening traumatic brain injury. Even somewhat mild head injuries can lead to serious long-term, secondary effects so any type of head injury should always be taken seriously.

Head injuries that cause permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical and psychosocial functions or a diminished state of consciousness may be elevated to a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Learn more about traumatic brain injuries.

What Causes Head Injuries?

Head injuries are generally broken up into two categories: injuries that are the result of a direct strike to the head or injuries that are the result of a violent fall or being shaken to the point where the brain collides with the skull.

Head injuries caused by a direct strike to the head are most commonly found in victims of:

  • Automobile accidents
  • Falling
  • Physical violence
  • Sports-related injuries

What are the Different Types of Head Injuries?

Head injuries are categorized as either a closed head injury or an open head injury. A closed head injury is an injury that does not break the skull, and an open head injury is an injury that does break the skull and may enter the brain. Common types of head injuries include:

Concussion – A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI), caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. A concussion causes the brain to bounce or twist in the skull which can result in chemical changes or damage to brain cells.

Skull fracture – A skull fracture is any injury or trauma that causes a fracture or break to the cranial bone. An injury to the brain can also accompany the fracture as a break in the skull making the brain very vulnerable to damage.

Edema – An injury that leads to edema or swelling in the brain. The skull cannot stretch to make room for the swelling. This can lead to pressure fluid buildup causing the brain to press against the skull.

Brain contusion – Brain contusions are bruises on the surface of the brain. Bruises on the brain can lead to damage of the brain tissue and blood vessels.

Subdural Hematoma – A subdural hematoma is a type of brain injury that results in blood collecting between the dura mater (a tough, protective layer covering the brain and spinal cord) and the brain itself. The dura mater is a layer of connective tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and helps to protect them from injury. When a subdural hematoma occurs, the blood collection can put pressure on the brain, leading to symptoms such as headache, difficulty speaking or moving, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Subdural hematomas can be acute (sudden) or chronic (evolving slowly over time) and may be caused by head injuries, such as car accidents or falls, being on blood thinners, or sometimes for no identified reason, and may require surgical intervention to remove the excess blood and relieve pressure on the brain or to block up the leaky vessels. 

Hemorrhage – A brain hemorrhage is a type of stroke that causes uncontrolled bleeding in or around the brain. The cause is an artery in the brain bursting and causing bleeding in the surrounding tissue.

Diffuse axonal injury – A diffuse axonal injury is a brain injury that does not cause bleeding but does can cause brain swelling or damage to brain cells. Most often the injury is the result of being violently shaken, commonly seen in automobile accidents.

What Are Head Injury Symptoms?

You may have varying symptoms depending on the type and severity of your injury.

Symptoms of a mild head injury may include:

  • External bleeding
  • External bruising
  • Mild headaches
  • Sickness and nausea
  • Dizziness

Symptoms of a more moderate head injury may include:

  • Short periods of conscientious
  • Confusion or difficulty focusing
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic headaches
  • Behavioral or mood changes
  • Memory problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Loss of balance

Symptoms of severe head injuries may include:

  • Substantial bleeding
  • Long periods of losing consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Loss of vision, taste or smell
  • Coma
  • Paralysis
  • Bleeding out of the ears or nose
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Difficulty with speech or motor skills

If you are experiencing any of these head injury symptoms call 911, go to an emergency room or contact your doctor immediately.

How Is a Head Injury Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of the injury itself can be quick and straightforward. Diagnosis of the severity or prognosis can be much more complicated. If needed, emergency services will be the first step. Next, doctors will perform various tests and assessments to try and measure brain activity and plan for possible treatment options.

Brain injury specialists commonly use the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), a 15-point test that measures a person’s level of consciousness, and brain injury severity by attempting to prompt body movements, eye movements and verbal response.

Imaging tests are also very common in the diagnosis of head injuries and trauma. CT scans may be performed to look for skull fractures, bleeding or brain swelling. MRIs are also common, offering a more detailed view of the brain.

How Is a Head Injury Treated?

Head injury treatment will depend on the type and severity of the injury.

Minor head injuries are usually treated with acetaminophen, ice and rest. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) should be avoided with open scalp cuts, as they could worsen bleeding.

More severe injury treatment will depend on a number of factors but may include:


Head injuries are often treated with anti-seizure, or anticonvulsant medication. It is also common to prescribe diuretics in brain injuries that have caused pressure or buildup. Diuretics can ease pressure by promoting the excretion of fluids.

In severe cases, a medically induced coma may be used to protect the brain from swelling and  to closely monitor  blood oxygenation levels..

Surgical Treatment

In acute cases, surgery may be required. In many cases, surgery is performed to remove large or dangerous hematoma or contusion that is causing brain compression or skull pressure. Adverse symptoms may take time to develop after an injury so typically there is a waiting period before any non-life-threatening surgery is performed.


Rehabilitative therapy is often prescribed, especially in more severe head injuries. The purpose of rehabilitation is to channel the body’s natural ability to heal itself and for the brain to relearn basic mental and physical tasks. Even in severe cases of brain trauma, a full or near-full recovery can be made with the right treatment and injury management.

At Banner Brain & Spine, we offer an array of integrated services for people with head and brain injuries. It is our goal to provide each patient with the best possible recovery and maximize independence.