Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when a sudden physical assault on the head causes damage to the brain. A closed injury occurs when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, but the object does not break through the skull. A penetrating injury occurs when an object pierces the skull and enters the brain tissue.
Several types of traumatic injuries can affect the head and brain. A skull fracture occurs when the bone of the skull cracks or breaks. A depressed skull fracture occurs when pieces of the broken skull press into the tissue of the brain. This can cause bruising of the brain tissue, called a contusion. A contusion can also occur in response to shaking of the brain within the confines of the skull. Damage to a major blood vessel within the head can cause a hematoma, or heavy bleeding into or around the brain. The severity of a TBI can range from a mild concussion to the extremes of coma or even death.
What to do: For anything more than the most superficial injury, call for emergency medical assistance immediately. Observe symptoms so that you can report when help arrives. Do not allow the person to continue the activity. In more serious cases, do not move the person unless there is danger.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs when a traumatic event results in damage to cells in the spinal cord or severs the nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord. The most common types of SCI include contusion (bruising of the spinal cord) and compression (caused by pressure on the spinal cord). Other types include lacerations (severing or tearing of nerve fibers) and central cord syndrome (specific damage to the cervical region of the spinal cord).
What to do: In some cases, drugs called corticosteroids can minimize cell damage from a spinal cord injury. To be effective, they must be given within 8 hours of the injury. For this reason, it is important to call for emergency medical assistance immediately. Any person suspected of sustaining such a spinal cord injury should not be moved unless it is absolutely essential to keep the airway open so the person can breathe or to maintain circulation.
For more information on traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury, visit the website of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at www.ninds.nih.gov/health_and_medical/disorders/sci.htm or call 800–352–9424.