Head Injury

Coma and traumatic brain injury are the two types of brain or head injuries. Each have different diagnosis and treatment methods.

The word coma simply means a state of unconsciousness.

This unconscious state varies from person to person. It can be very deep, where no amount of stimulation will cause the person to respond or, it can be a relatively lighter state in which the person may move, make noise or respond to pain, yet is unable to obey simple, one-step commands such as "hold up two fingers" or "stick out your tongue."

Therefore, the process of recovery from a coma is unique to each person. While recovery can be slow or quick, it is based on their situation and the “depth” of their unconsciousness.

For example, for people who are comatose due to a severe injury to the brain or head, recovery is variable according to the severity and location of the injury. And, in some cases, recovery may only be partial and may include permanent impairment.

When determining the diagnosis or severity of the injury, physicians will use brain-imaging technologies, such as computerized axial tomography (CT or CAT scan). Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may also be used to image subtle changes or issues that are not picked up by CT.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused by a blow or jolt to the head, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue and disrupts the normal function of the brain.

Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of damage to the brain.

Mild cases may result in a brief change in mental state or consciousness, while severe cases may result in extended periods of unconsciousness, coma, or even death.

A mild traumatic brain injury is sometimes called a concussion. Concussions can result from a car crash, a sports injury, or from a seemingly innocuous fall, to mention only a few, and recovery times can vary greatly.

Even though they are designated as mild traumatic brain injuries, they can be very serious and should be dealt with appropriately.

Semmes Murphey physicians are particularly skilled and experienced in diagnosing and treating concussions.

In fact, we have a multi-disciplinary Concussion Management Team, which includes specialists in the areas of clinical neurology, neuropsychology, neuroradiology, neurosurgery, physiatry, and physical therapy. To ensure optimum treatment for concussed patients, the team works closely to assess the possible concussion, amount of damage, if any, and determine an appropriate plan for treatment.

We also work closely with parents, coaches, athletic trainers, employers, and/or school officials to develop an appropriate return-to-work, return-to-school, or return-to-play plan.


Here are some general tips to help prevent head injuries:

  • Supervise younger children at all times, and do not let them use sporting equipment or play sports unsuitable for their age.
  • Buy and use helmets or protective head gear approved for specific sports by the American Society for Testing and Measurement (ASTM) 100% of the time.
  • Do not dive into water less than 12-feet deep or above-ground pools.
  • Follow all rules at water parks and swimming pools.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the sport.
  • Do not wear any clothing that can interfere with your vision.
  • Do not participate in sports when you are ill or very tired.
  • Perform regular safety checks of sports fields, playgrounds and equipment.
  • Discard and replace sporting equipment or protective gear that is damaged or no longer fits.
  • Obey all traffic signals when driving a car.
    • Be aware of people also on the road who may be walking, jogging, cycling, skateboarding, rollerblading or riding a motorcycle.
  • When walking, jogging, cycling, skateboarding or rollerblading on public streets or highways:
    • Be aware of cars and drivers.
    • Always wear helmets and other protective gear specific to that sport.
    • Avoid uneven or unpaved surfaces.
    • Inspect your cycles or equipment for damage.
    • Make sure you have enough and appropriate reflective materials and lights on your cycles or equipment.
  • Be careful in and aware of work situations or equipment that could cause accidents.

This information was created and provided by the specialists at Semmes Murphey Clinic. Readers are encouraged to research trustworthy organizations for information. Please talk with your physician for websites and sources that will enhance your knowledge and understanding of this issue and its treatment.

The professionals at Semmes Murphey Clinic are very experienced with the treatment of all sorts of head injuries and concussions.

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