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What is traumatic brain injury?

Around one million people visit A&E each year following a head injury. While the majority of these people will experience no lasting effects, many others will be left with a traumatic brain injury1. Traumatic brain injury is defined as a sudden disruption in the normal function of the brain resulting from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury2.

“Severe head injuries require immediate medical attention because there’s a risk of serious brain damage.”

What causes a traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury is an injury to the brain caused by a trauma to the head resulting from:

  • Falls
  • Motor vehicle and pedestrian-related accidents
  • Collision-related incidents
  • Violent assaults

What are the effects of a traumatic brain injury?

The effects of a traumatic brain injury on an individual depend on a number of factors such as the type, location and severity of brain injury. A moderate head injury is defined as loss of consciousness for between 15 minutes and six hours, or a period of post-traumatic amnesia of up to 24 hours. The individual can be kept in hospital overnight for observation and then discharged if there are no further obvious medical injuries. Individuals with moderate head injury are likely to suffer from a number of residual symptoms.

A severe head injury is usually described when an individual has been in an unconscious state for six hours or more, or a post-traumatic amnesia of 24 hours or more. These individuals are likely to be hospitalised and receive rehabilitation once the acute phase has passed. A severe head injury can cause devastating and lifelong effects3, including:

  • Cognitive effects affecting the way the individual thinks, learns and remembers
  • Communication problems, such as language impairment and speech difficulties
  • Emotional effects, including mood changes and mental health problems
  • Behavioural changes causing disinhibition, impulsiveness, irritability and aggression
  • Physical effects, including epilepsy, mobility problems, weakness or paralysis, spasticity, ataxia, sensory impairments, physiological dysfunction and fatigue (link)

What is rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation is an essential part of the recovery process and will depend on the exact nature of the injury, individual needs and general health. It aims to help the brain learn alternative ways of working to minimise the long term impact of the traumatic brain injury. Rehabilitation also helps the individual and their support network to cope with any remaining lifelong effects. Depending on the effects of the traumatic brain injury, various treatments and interventions may be required, such as:

  • Physiotherapy to help with the physical problems
  • Occupational Therapy t help with function, occupation and activities of daily living
  • Speech & Language Therapy to help communication and any swallowing difficulties
  • Psychology to help cope with the effects of stroke
  • Specialist Nurses and Doctors

What postural challenges can result from a traumatic brain injury?

  • Abnormal muscle tone
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Poor postural control
  • Pelvic instability
  • Involuntary movements
  • Posturing
  • Contractures 
  • Sensory impairments
  • Fatigue
  • Rehabilitation potential

References

2

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (2017) Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion Available from: www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/index.html

3

Headway (2018) Effects of brain injury Available from: www.headway.org.uk/about-brain-injury/individuals/effects-of-brain-injury/