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I was in a car accident but did not hit my head. My doctors say I have a traumatic brain injury (TBI). What does that mean?

You can sustain a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck even when your head does not hit anything in the car. During the impact of a crash, your body is jolted back and forth inside the vehicle, and your brain can slam against your skull, resulting in brain damage. 

Brain injuries are often serious but can vary from person to person. Some victims of brain injuries suffer mild injuries and recover quickly, while other victims have more severe injuries and may never recover.

There are two main categories of head injuries that can result in a TBI. These can include, but not be limited to, closed and open head injuries. When dealing with closed injuries, there is usually no visible injury. There is no readily apparent injury until symptoms manifest. Because the injury may not be evident until symptoms appear, many closed head injuries are either never diagnosed or are diagnosed sometime after the triggering event.

Closed head injuries are further divided into sub-categories, such as:

  • Concussion – generally considered a mild TBI
  • Coup-contrecoup – bruising of the brain as a result of it hitting the skull while in motion after impact
  • Diffuse axonal – sheared axons, the brain’s connective tissue, leads to loss of consciousness and permanent disability 

Open head injuries, also referred to as penetrating head injuries, happen when an object penetrates the skull and the underlying brain tissue. If the skull was fractured in a car accident, the brain might be pierced by a piece of bone, debris or glass. Open head injuries require immediate care to stop the bleeding and attempt to reduce swelling of the brain.

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