Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries

Our firm has experience assisting clients with mild, moderate and severe brain injuries. Traumatic brain injury is a result of a direct blow to the head, such as that caused by impact with an object like the windshield or the dashboard of a car. Concussion is often used as another word for brain injury.  The force of an accident is large enough to break through the skull and damage the soft brain or to cause the brain to move within the skull. About 10% of surviving individuals have continuing disabilities that may impair their ability to live independently.

Traumatic spinal cord injury is damage to the spinal cord that results in loss of mobility or feeling. In most cases, the spinal cord remains intact, but the damage results in loss of nerve function. Injuries to the neck or back may damage the spinal cord, causing loss of function of the nerves below the injury.

Causes of Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries

Automobile accidents are the most common cause of brain injuries. Failure to use protective gear such as seat belts or helmets while riding a bike increases your risk of sustaining serious head or spinal cord injury should an accident occur. Other common causes of brain and spinal cord injuries include acts of violence and sports injuries. In infants, toddlers, and elderly people, brain injury is often caused by falls in or around the home. Very young children who are violently shaken can experience severe and potentially permanent brain damage.

Effects of Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal column fracture or dislocation resulting in spinal cord compression, such as that caused by diving into shallow water, can cause injury to the spinal cord. Severing the spinal cord results in immediate paralysis and loss of sensation below the break. Less severe damage to the spinal cord generally results in less severe loss of function. Spinal column fracture or dislocation resulting in spinal cord compression, such as that caused by diving into shallow water, can cause injury to the spinal cord. Severing the spinal cord results in immediate paralysis and loss of sensation below the break. Less severe damage to the spinal cord generally results in less severe loss of function.

The extent of secondary damage such as inflammation or hemorrhage following brain or spinal injury often determines the permanence of the initial damage. One of the body’s responses to injury is inflammation. Inflammation occurs when certain cells of the immune system move towards the area of injury and release potent chemicals. Among other effects, these chemicals cause fluid to build up in the injured area. Because both the brain and spinal cord are confined in tight spaces, inflammation or internal bleeding can cause pressure on the nerves. If the pressure does not subside, the nerves will start to die in a few hours. Rapid treatment to reduce the pressure caused by inflammation or internal bleeding may prevent permanent damage to the brain or spinal cord.

Symptoms of Brain Injury

The symptoms of brain injury depend on the areas of the brain or spinal cord that are damaged. A brain injury can be localized to a single area (focal damage), or can spread out over a wide area of the brain (diffuse damage). Localized damage usually occurs at the place where an object strikes the head or penetrates the brain. When this type of damage occurs, the function performed by that part of the brain may be temporarily or permanently lost.

The brain moving within or colliding with the skull usually causes diffuse damage. Because the speech and language areas of the brain sit in pockets of the skull that allow the most movement, they are the most common areas to be injured. As a result, difficulty communicating is a common symptom of closed head injuries. Other symptoms of brain injury may include difficulty swallowing, loss of coordination or balance, blurry or double vision, loss of consciousness, impaired memory, confusion or drowsiness, slurred speech, vomiting, changes in ability to smell, or fluid or blood leaking from the nose or ears. In the most severe cases, heartbeat and breathing may stop, and the injured person may enter a coma or die.

Minor injury (80%)More severe injury (10%)Injury requiring
emergency medical care (10%)
Mild headacheCuts or bruises on scalpDifficulty communicatingTemporary confusion or memory lossLoss of coordination or balanceBlurry or double visionChanges in smellSevere head or facial bleedingLoss of consciousness, even if only temporaryConfusion or memory loss lasting more than a few minutesBlack and blue marks below the eyes or behind the earsBlood or clear fluid leaking from the ears or nose (not as a result of a direct blow to the nose)Heartbeat or breathing stops

Symptoms of brain injury usually develop soon after the trauma. In some cases, however, an injured person will have no symptoms at first, only to develop serious symptoms hours or days later. In minor cases, a person with a head injury may have a mild headache, a lump on the head, and a bruise or a cut on the scalp. The absence of major physical symptoms, however, does not rule out a serious brain injury. Especially in cases where an injury causes fluid to build up within the brain, symptoms may not appear until much later. For this reason, a person who has experienced a brain injury should be watched closely for any sign of delayed symptoms.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury

The type and severity of spinal cord injury will determine the kinds of symptoms that emerge. Typical symptoms of whiplash injuries include headache, neck or back pain, swelling in the affected area, and bruising on the neck or back. Compression injuries, dislocation injuries, or severe whiplash may result in weakness, tingling, or numbness in the arms or legs. Other symptoms may include loss of bladder or bowel control and difficulty breathing. In the most severe cases, spinal cord injury results in total paralysis and loss of sensation below the site of damage.

If you or a loved one is experiencing the above mentioned symptoms as a result of an accident, we strongly suggest that you contact us at 604.264.5550 for a consultation.

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