Traumatic Brain Injury – The Invisible Injury
Traumatic brain injuries are often referred to as invisible injuries because they cannot be seen like a broken arm or bruise. However, brain injuries require proper assessment and treatment by trained health care professionals just like more visible injuries. It is estimated that 60% to 80% of soldiers injured in a blast may also suffer from a traumatic brain injury (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/traumatic-brain-injury-ptsd.asp). Therefore, it is important for veterans to know the signs of a brain injury and the appropriate treatment. This article describes what a traumatic brain injury is, common signs and symptoms, and available treatment resources.
A traumatic brain injury occurs when the brain is damaged due to an external force to the head or body. Traumatic brain injuries are classified as mild, moderate, or severe. A mild traumatic brain injury, also known as a concussion, is diagnosed through the presence of concussion symptoms. It can be difficult to diagnose a concussion because there is no concrete diagnostic test. Moderate and severe traumatic brain injuries may be visible on neuroimaging tests such as an MRI or CAT scan. 80% of traumatic brain injuries in the United States are considered mild (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/traumatic-brain-injury-ptsd.asp).
Symptoms of traumatic brain injuries are classified into 4 categories: emotional (frequent changes in emotion, irritability), physical (headache, nausea, dizziness), fatigue (sleep disturbances), and cognitive (difficulties with attention and memory). Blows to the head can affect other body systems such as the muscles and ligaments in the neck and the vestibular system that controls balance and vision, provoking more symptoms.
Most individuals with a mild traumatic brain injury will recover within 3 to 6 months (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/traumatic-brain-injury-ptsd.asp). However, it is common for veterans to experience symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury for a longer period of time between 18 and 24 months (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/traumatic-brain-injury-ptsd.asp). Symptoms of headache, insomnia, irritability, and memory and concentration difficulties often persist for the longest time (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/traumatic-brain-injury-ptsd.asp). It is important to get proper treatment for brain injury to prevent secondary health concerns such as PTSD, depression, chronic pain, and substance abuse from arising (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/traumatic-brain-injury-ptsd.asp).
Recovery from traumatic brain injury is possible with the appropriate treatment from specialized health care providers. The Veterans’ Affairs has created the Polytrauma System of Care that specifically focuses on traumatic brain injury recovery through musculoskeletal, neurological, and psychological therapies.
Musculoskeletal therapy such as neck/spine therapy may be able to cure physical symptoms such as headache and neck pain (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24855132). Neurological therapy such as vestibular therapy can cure symptoms of balance problems and dizziness (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20588094). Psychological therapy can reduce sleep, cognitive, and emotional symptoms, while also preventing secondary reactions like depression (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3359788/). Physical exercise therapy devised by an occupational therapist can reduce physical and emotional symptoms (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27154855).
If you are a veteran or know a veteran suffering from symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, please seek medical help at the nearest Veterans’ Affairs Polytrauma Centre. Since traumatic brain injuries are invisible, veterans may not attribute their persistent symptoms to a concussive blow suffered many months earlier. It can take time to recover from a traumatic brain injury, but the first step of recovery is seeking appropriate treatment in order to return to daily activities.
Polytrauma/TBI System of Care Website:
This public education and information article was written by Lani Uyeno, a rising high school senior at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. At Choate, Lani leads the school’s Salute to Service Fundraiser that donates to the Foundation for Women Warriors’ Childcare Assistance Fund. She is also a summer research volunteer at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’s Concussion Centre in Toronto, Canada.Back To Blog