Head Injury

Head injuries are damage to the scalp, skull, or brain caused by trauma. When it affects the brain, they’re called a traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

To most people, head injuries are considered an acceptable risk when engaging in sports and other types of recreational activities. But they’re dangerous. They can lead to permanent disability, mental impairment, and even death. There are steps you can take to lower the risk and protect yourself and your children.

Types of Head Injuries

There are many different types of head injuries.

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Concussion. This is the most common type of head injury. A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that happens when the brain is jarred or shaken hard enough to bounce against the skull. It can range from mild to severe. You don't have to be hit in the head to get a concussion. An impact elsewhere on the body can create enough force to jar the brain.

Contusion. A bruise on the actual brain itself is called a contusion. It can cause bleeding and swelling.

Intracranial hematoma (ICH). This is bleeding under the skull in the brain that forms a clot. Brain hematomas range from mild to severe and are grouped according to where they form.

Skull fracture. Sometimes, a broken skull bone can affect the brain. The broken pieces of bone can cut into the brain and cause bleeding and other types of injury.

Head Injury Causes

The most common causes of head injuries are:

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Car or motorcycle accidents


Child abuse

Acts of violence

A concussion or other head injury can also happen when two athletes collide or a player is hit in the head with a piece of sporting equipment. In soccer, even "heading" the ball can cause a concussion.

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Among the sports-related activities that cause the highest number of head injuries for all ages:




Baseball and softball

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Riding powered recreational vehicles such as dune buggies, go-karts, and mini bikes

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, the five leading activities that cause concussions in children and adolescents aged 5-18 years of age are:




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Playground activities


Sports activities and trauma aren’t always the cause of head injuries. Contusions or brain hemorrhages can have other causes, such as:

Long-term high blood pressure (in adults)

Bleeding disorders

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Use of blood thinners or certain recreational drugs

Head Injury Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a concussion may show up immediately, or they can take hours or even days to show up. You don’t always lose consciousness with a concussion. A concussion causes changes in a person's mental status and can disrupt the normal functioning of the brain. Multiple concussions can have a long-lasting, life-changing effect.

Signs of a TBI, like a concussion, include:



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Dizziness or balance problems

Double or fuzzy vision

Feeling foggy or groggy

Feeling sluggish or tired


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Memory loss


Sensitivity to light or noise

Sleep disturbance

Trouble concentrating

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Trouble remembering

Signs or symptoms that a head injury may be more than a concussion and requires emergency treatment include:

Changes in size of pupils

Clear or bloody fluid draining from the nose, mouth, or ears


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Distorted facial features

Facial bruising

Fracture in the skull or face

Impaired hearing, smell, taste, or vision

Inability to move one or more limbs

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Loss of consciousness

Low breathing rate

Restlessness, clumsiness, or lack of coordination

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Severe headache

Slurred speech or blurred vision

Stiff neck or vomiting

Sudden worsening of symptoms after initial improvement

Swelling at the site of the injury

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Persistent vomiting

Head Injury Treatment

If you think you may have a concussion or suspect that someone else has one, the most important step to take is to prevent further injury. Stop whatever activity you are involved in and tell someone you think you may have been injured. Then get medical attention. If you're playing as part of a team, ask to be taken out of the game and tell the coach what happened. If a fellow player has signs of being confused or a sudden loss of coordination, be sure to report this to a coach. If you are coaching a team and you notice a potential injury, take the person out of the game, and see that the person gets medical care.

Receiving medical attention as soon as possible is important for any type of potentially moderate to severe TBI. Undiagnosed injuries that don't receive proper care can cause long-term disability and impairment. Keep in mind that although death from a sports injury is rare, brain injuries are the leading cause of sports-related deaths.

Head Injury Risk Prevention

The most important step to take is to buy and properly use protective head gear that has been approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Be sure to buy the right size for a proper fit and to wear the helmet or headgear properly. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, helmets or headgear should be worn at all times for the following activities:

Baseball and softball

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Horseback riding

Riding powered recreational vehicles

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Skateboarding and riding scooters




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