A Guide to Understanding Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

A Guide to Understanding Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a type of injury that happens when an external force or trauma causes damage to the brain.

This damage can result in a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms that can vary in severity and duration.

There are two types of TBIs: closed and penetrating.

A closed TBI occurs when the brain sustains an impact within the skull, as may happen in a car accident, a fall or a blow to the head during a sports activity.

A penetrating TBI is caused by an object penetrating the skull and coming into contact with the brain, as can occur in gunshot or knife wounds.

The severity of a TBI is classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on the extent of damage to brain tissue and the duration of unconsciousness.

Mild TBIs are also known as concussions. They may cause temporary loss of consciousness and symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and confusion.

Moderate to severe TBIs may cause long-term cognitive, motor, and sensory impairments that can affect essential functions such as memory, attention, and motor skills, making it challenging for individuals to carry out tasks and daily activities, or follow simple commands.

In severe cases, TBIs can result in persistent vegetative state, coma, or even death. Adults age 65 and older are at greatest risk for being hospitalized and dying from a TBI, most likely from a fall. [1]

There is no complete cure for TBIs. The damage to brain tissue resulting from a TBI can be permanent. In some cases, rehabilitation therapies can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life for individuals with a TBI. [2]

Brain X-ray

What Causes TBI?

TBIs can be caused by various events such as falls, car accidents, sports injuries, and physical assaults that result in a blow to the head, penetrating injury, or violent shaking of the head.

Other less common causes of TBI include electric shock, near drowning, or exposure to an explosive blast.

Falls are the most common cause of TBIs among older adults, while car accidents are the leading cause among young adults.

Sports injuries such as concussions are common in high-contact sports like football and hockey, while traumatic brain injuries related to violence may occur due to physical assault, domestic abuse, or gunshot wounds. [3]

What Are the Symptoms of TBI?

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can cause a range of symptoms that can vary depending on the severity and location of the injury.

Symptoms can occur immediately after the injury or may develop over a period of time. Some common type symptoms of TBIs include physical symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Balance problems
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Light sensitivity
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Poor judgment
  • Speech/language difficulties
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Vocal weakness

In severe cases of TBI, an individual may experience seizures, loss of consciousness, and coma.

Other symptoms may include changes in behavior and difficulty with physical coordination.

Symptoms may differ depending on which part of the brain was injured. Injuries to the temporal lobe may affect memory and language, while frontal lobe injuries may affect mood and behavior.

It is important to seek medical attention from your medical provider immediately if any of these symptoms develop after a head injury to allow for proper diagnosis and treatment of a TBI.

How is TBI Diagnosed?

doctors looking at an x-ray of the brain

The first step in diagnosing a TBI is a thorough medical evaluation by a neurologist or a physician. The health care provider will ask questions about the symptoms and the events leading up to the injury to determine the severity of the TBI.

They will conduct a physical exam, including a neurological exam, to check for any signs of injury, such as abnormalities in eye movements, muscle strength, and reflexes.

If the physical exam suggests a TBI, the doctor may order imaging tests such as CT scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging MRI scans which provide detailed images, or an EEG to visualize the brain and detect any physical abnormalities.

Doctors may also perform cognitive tests to evaluate the cognitive and emotional effects of a TBI.

Cognitive tests may include assessments of memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities. These tests can help determine the extent of the injury and the potential long-term effects on cognitive and emotional functioning.

Diagnosing a TBI requires a multidisciplinary approach, with doctors, neuropsychologists, and rehabilitation specialists working together to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

Early diagnosis is important for managing the symptoms and preventing long-term complications of a TBI.

This is particularly applicable to traumatic brain injuries which often cannot be detected by brain imaging technology.

What Treatments Are Available for TBI?

Treatment for TBI depends on the severity of the injury. The primary goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of long-term disability and improve quality of life.

Treatment may include physical therapy, medications, counseling, and surgical intervention.

Rehabilitation programs can help individuals with TBI regain lost skills and adjust to their new lifestyle.

With proper care and support, many individuals affected by TBI can reclaim their lives and reach their full potential.

What are the Long-Term Effects of TBI?

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can have long-term effects on an individual’s physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning, and the effects can vary from person to person.

Long-term effects of TBIs can include chronic headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, and changes in sleep patterns. TBIs can also affect motor skills, making it challenging to carry out everyday activities such as walking and driving.

Individuals who have experienced a TBI may be at increased risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia later in life.

The long-term effects of a TBI can have a significant impact on an individual’s life, including their ability to work, maintain relationships, and engage in social activities.

Ongoing medical care and therapy can help manage symptoms and improve overall quality of life for individuals with a TBI.

Support from family members, caregivers, and support groups can also help individuals cope with the emotional and physical challenges associated with TBIs.

Understanding the potential long-term effects of a TBI can help individuals and families prepare for and manage these effects and take necessary precautions to prevent additional injury.

How Can You Minimize the Risk of a TBI?

There are many ways that you can minimize risk factors for TBI, and taking proactive steps to prevent TBIs is essential for maintaining brain health.

One of the most effective ways to prevent TBIs is to wear protective headgear when engaging in high-risk activities such as sports, recreational activities, construction work, and riding motorcycles or bicycles.

Other Ways to Reduce the Risk of a Head Injury:

  • Ensure that helmets fit correctly, are in good condition and meet safety standards.
  • Avoid driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Wearing seat belts while driving a car and making sure children are secure in booster seats.
  • Avoid distracted driving and always remain focused on the road.
  • Don’t text, use mobile phones, eat, or do other activities that distract your attention when driving.
  • Creating a safe environment in your home can help prevent falls, which are the leading cause of TBIs among older adults.
  • Install nonslip mats in the bathroom.
  • Safeguard stairs with sturdy banisters and adequate lighting
  • Hold onto railings when climbing stairs and use child safety gates.
  • If prone to seizures, take prescribed anti-seizure medication religiously.

You can reduce the likelihood of a TBI and protect your brain health in the long run by taking appropriate precautions. [4]

Stay informed and aware of the dangers of TBIs and recognize the symptoms of a TBI immediately to seek proper medical attention.

Know the signs of a concussion:

  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • nausea

Prevention is always better than cure, particularly in the case of brain injuries, and it’s vital that you take steps to minimize your risk of experiencing a TBI.

If you suffer a blow to the head and experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.

How You Can Learn to Live with a TBI

Living with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be challenging, but it’s possible to learn to live a fulfilling life with proper care and coping strategies.

Treatment for TBIs can be lifelong, and it typically involves a multidisciplinary approach to address the physical, cognitive, and emotional effects of the injury.

According to the CDC, approximately 2.87 million cases of TBI occurred in the U.S. in 2014 with over 837,000 cases occurring amongst children. An estimated 13.5 million individuals live with a disability due to traumatic brain injury in the U.S. alone. [5]

Rehabilitation Therapies

Physical Therapy

The goal of physical therapy is to help patients improve physical functioning by addressing mobility, strength, balance, and coordination issues, as well as cardiovascular endurance training to improve overall physical fitness.

woman with blue scarf around head going through physical therapy

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists work with individuals to improve their ability to carry out daily activities and reach their goals related to employment, education, and independent living. To regain as much independence and function as possible.

Treatment typically involves a combination of physical exercises, cognitive stimulation, and functional activities such as cooking task simulation, handwriting exercises, and self-care tasks, with the goal of enhancing motor skills, cognitive abilities, and overall self-sufficiency.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists, are trained professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating speech and language disorders.

They work with individuals to develop an individualized program of care that targets their specific communication challenges.

Speech therapy for TBI may consist of exercises aimed at improving speech production, language comprehension, and cognitive-communication skills.

For example, exercises may include practicing word or sentence repetition, working on semantic skills, and practicing social communication skills, such as conversational turn-taking.

Therapy can help individuals recover their voice quality, while swallowing therapy helps individuals regain normal swallowing function.


Psychotherapy is a type of therapy that focuses on improving mental and emotional health, as well as cognitive functioning. Psychotherapy can help individuals address mood and behavior changes that may occur following a TBI.

It is usually done through talking with a trained therapist to gain insight into one’s thoughts and feelings.

The goal of psychotherapy is to help individuals better understand themselves, their emotions, and ultimately, address any underlying issues that may be causing them distress.

Psychotherapy can also help individuals develop better coping skills and learn strategies for managing their thoughts and behaviors.

Strategies that can help include:

  • breaking tasks into small, more manageable steps
  • practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing
  • scheduling regular rest breaks throughout the day

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage symptoms such as headaches, depression, and anxiety.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is a valuable component to recovery and rehabilitation for individuals with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Sleep plays a vital role in the restoration of many essential functions of the brain, including memory, attention, and executive functions.

Individuals with TBIs may experience changes in their sleep patterns, such as difficulty sleeping, daytime sleepiness, and nightmare disorders.

These sleep disturbances can negatively impact physical and mental health, prolong the recovery process, and increase the risk of long-term complications such as depression and anxiety.

Poor sleep quality has been shown to affect cognitive functioning negatively and lead to an increased risk of accidents and injuries.

Creating a consistent sleep routine is essential in promoting restorative sleep for individuals with TBIs.

Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding caffeine and electronic devices before bed, reducing noise levels, and keeping the bedroom cool and dark, can help promote sleep quality and quantity.

Medical professionals may also prescribe medication that promotes sleep, but it’s crucial to follow their guidelines strictly as they may have side effects or interact with other medicines.

Training in cognitive behavioral therapy may help individuals deal with emotional distress and regulate their sleep better. Staying active and exercising regularly under medical supervision can help regulate sleep cycles and improve brain functioning.

Adequate and restorative deep sleep is helpful for individuals with TBIs to promote healing, reduce the risk of long-term complications, and improve their quality of life.

woman sleeping


Family members, friends, and support groups can offer encouragement and help with everyday tasks for a person with head trauma. Involve loved ones in the treatment process to help them understand the nature of TBIs and what the individual may be going through to foster greater empathy and support.

Shook & Stone is a law firm that specializes in helping victims of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and other catastrophic injuries. The attorneys at Shook & Stone understand the physical, emotional, and financial struggles that can follow a TBI and offer compassionate legal representation for those affected.

The team at Shook & Stone guides clients through the complexities of insurance claims and legal proceedings involving TBIs. They strive to secure the maximum compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering to help victims and their families get back on their feet.

If you or someone you love are victims of brain trauma due to another party’s negligence, contact Shook & Stone today for a free consultation.



[1] Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). (2023, February 7). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

[2] Traumatic brain injury – Symptoms and causes. (2021, February 4). Mayo Clinic.

[3] How to Prevent Brain Injury | Shepherd Center. (n.d.). How to Prevent Brain Injury | Shepherd Center.

[4] Brain Trauma Foundation. (2021, August 20). Brain Trauma Foundation.

[5] Traumatic Brain Injury – Causes, Symptoms and Treatments. (n.d.). Traumatic Brain Injury – Causes, Symptoms and Treatments.