The Impact of Traumatic Brain Injury, Part 1: Physical Complications

CourthouseTraumatic brain injury is an unpredictable condition. Even slight traumatic brain injuries (concussions) can have long lasting effects, and no two TBIs are the same. We’d like to use this month to discuss some of the complications related to TBI, starting with the physical complications. But first – what is a TBI, what are common causes for TBI and how can injuries to different areas of the brain affect the injured individual?

TBI occurs when the brain suffers blunt or rotational injuries to tissues. There are many mechanisms of injury, including open head injuries such as gunshot wounds, closed head injuries like those from slip and falls or car accidents as well as deceleration injuries, which occur when the skull and brain move in different directions and the brain bounces against the inside of the skull. The brain is a gelatinous organ suspended in a thin layer of fluid. Because of this, you don’t need to actually hit your head to suffer a traumatic brain injury. Any accident that causes your brain to move within the skull can produce TBI.

The effects of TBI are divided into three categories: physical, cognitive and emotional.

The Physical Effects of TBI

Most people who suffer from TBI make an excellent physical recovery. This means that there are few or no outward signs of the injury. But even these people may have less apparent physical problems that complicate everyday life.

  • Some describe TBI as “living life in the slow lane.” A person’s movement can be slowed and balance can be affected. Some people may require mobility aids like wheelchairs or walkers due to the injury.
  • A person may have trouble exerting complete control over limbs. Stiffness, weakness and limited range of motion are common. Often, the problem is more severe on the side of the body opposite the location of the brain injury. This is because the brain is split into two hemispheres, with the left controlling the right side of the body and the left controlling the right.
  • Weakness or paralysis. Known as hemiplegia, the condition may require a person to seek personal care.
  • This is uncontrolled movements or tremors affecting a person’s coordination.
  • Impairment of senses. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, a person may have reduced, lost or exaggerated senses.
  • Excessive tiredness is a very common symptom of even minor traumatic brain injuries. The injured person may find that even menial tasks, such as dressing, take a lot more energy than usual to complete.
  • Speech impediments. Another common effect, a person may suffer slowed, slurred or rapid speech after the injury.
  • Epileptic seizures or fits.

Next week, we will discuss the cognitive effects of TBI.

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