Head Trauma is Dangerous for Children

A Child's Brain may be Permanently Changed by Head Trauma

Children are susceptible to serious injury from head trauma for several reasons. In an infant or young child the bones of the head are thinner, and may not be fully developed. The head-to-body ratio is also larger which causes the head to strike a surface with greater force.

Active adolescents, particularly those who play contact sports, are often exposed to repetitive mild head trauma. While in the past these types of injuries were not considered serious, new research studies disagree.

Brain development may be permanently altered.

Understanding and preventing head trauma in children is important, because the brain is still growing and learning core skills. Changes in how learning, concentration and language develop can have lasting effects.  

What Happens During a Head Trauma?

Anytime the head receives a direct blow, or is forcefully shaken, it causes the brain to twist, stretch and smack against the inside of the skull. Consider how much it hurts to be punched really hard on the arm. Now imagine that happening to the brain. Just like the rest of the body, the brain becomes inflamed and bruised.

Brain injury from head trauma happens in primary and secondary phases.

Primary injury is the damage that occurs right when the head receives the trauma. It’s the initial blow. Secondary injury happens hours to days after the initial impact. During that time frame damaged blood vessels bleed, and cells are leaking enzymes and chemicals into the brain.

The brain swells which creates pressure inside the skull, because there is no place for the brain to expand. When pressure inside the skull goes up, blood flow goes down because blood vessels are pressed together.  The brain starts to starve for oxygen.

When the brain goes through this kind of trauma, many microscopic nerves are torn or ruptured throughout the brain.

Whole pathways of nerves running from one area of the brain may not be able to communicate. The brain’s wiring is no longer working like it should.

What Does That Mean for a Child's Brain?

When a child has had any type of head trauma it’s important to seek medical attention right away. Also carefully watch for any changes in behavior. Here are some examples of what to look for:

  • Increased moodiness
  • Loss of interest in favorite toys
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sleeping much more than usual
  • A step backward in development (f ex. losing toilet training skills)
  • Changes in memory or recognition of others

A child’s behavior and normal patterns change because the brain is not able to communicate correctly. Just like in a big city that has many highways, if one of the highways is closed, traffic spills over to side streets, and it takes much longer to get from point A to point B.

Multiple research studies show that some children who experience a head injury are at a higher risk for emotional and mental health disturbances.

The ability to be successful in school is decreased in more severe injuries, and overall quality of health is lower.

Rehabilitation Is Essential

Although head trauma can cause serious brain injury, the good news is that the brain has an amazing ability to repair itself. There are many excellent rehabilitation programs that work directly with children, and help the brain heal through a variety of physical and mental exercises.

The most important thing to do after a head trauma, is prevent another brain injury from happening. The research shows that repeated head traumas have a cumulative effect and can undermine some of the benefits of rehabilitation.

Children should always wear helmets when bicycling, seatbelts are important, and it may be necessary to avoid activities where head traumas are more likely to happen.


Centers for Disease Control; Traumatic Brain Injury;  http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/pdf/BlueBook_factsheet-a.pdf

Docking, K. &  Murdoch, B. (2007);  Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and language in childhood: Pre- and post-injury trends. Brain and Language 103 8–249

Kumar R, Mahapatra AK  The changing "epidemiology" of pediatric head injury and its impact on the daily clinical practice. Childs Nerv Syst. 2009 Jul; 25(7):813-23.

Ling, H., Hardy, J., & Zetterberg, H. (2015). Neurological consequences of traumatic brain injuries in sports. Molecular And Cellular Neuroscience, 66(Part B), 114-122. doi:10.1016/j.mcn.2015.03.012

McKinlay, A., Grace, R., Horwood, L., Fergusson D. & MacFarlane, M. (2008). Long-term behavioural outcomes of pre-school mild traumatic brain injury; Child: Care, Health and Development; doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2009.00947

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