Brain Injury: What You Need to Know

When we wake up in the morning, few if any of us consciously think about what we will do to avoid a brain injury that day, however, many of the activities we perform on a daily basis generate a possibility of accidentally damaging our brain. These include routine daily activities such as: playing sports, driving a car, walking down stairs or biking/rollerblading/riding to school. While most of us will not be involved an accident or get hurt during an activity that results in a brain injury, it’s important that we are aware of the possibility so we don’t unknowingly put ourselves in situations of high risk.

Suffering a brain injury can be a life-altering experience and can lead to many developmental problems in the future. The severity and the area damaged depends on the type of brain injury (traumatic or non-traumatic), the severity of the injury (mild, moderate or severe) and where it occurred on brain.

The result can be temporary or long-lasting. By listening to your physician and applying proper treatment can increase the likelihood of having a full recovery. You can decrease your chances of attaining a brain injury by following some simple procedures; wear a helmet, wear your seatbelt, when playing sports, wear equipment correctly, etc.

If you get hit on the head and feel that something is irregular afterwards, go to your family doctor and get checked out to make sure you did not suffer a brain injury. Remember, you do not need to have a concussion or lose consciousness to have a mild brain injury. If you are playing sports and get wacked on the head, take some time to make sure you’re okay before going back into the game. If you’re unsure whether you’re okay or not, do not go back to play. It is much better to miss playing time than run the risk of a brain injury.

What is a brain injury?

Having a brain injury means the brain has been damaged. Brain injuries fall under two main categories: traumatic and non-traumatic.

Traumatic brain injury: This is caused by something external like a blow/hit to the head or when something penetrates the skull. This type of brain injury can be categorized in into two categories: closed brain injury and open brain injury.

Closed brain injury: Caused by a hit or blow to the head, also known as a concussion. This impact forces the head in the opposite direction causing the brain to bounce off the inner walls of the skull. This motion can cause damage in more than one area of the brain.

Open brain injury: Occurs when an object goes in or through the brain, such as a gunshot wound. This type of injury is more visible and is usually has a severe life-altering outcome.

Non-traumatic brain injury: This type of injury occurs naturally in the brain, it’s not caused by a hit or blow to the head. For example, brain infection, tumor or stroke can all cause a non-traumatic brain injury. These types on injuries are unpreventable.

How do I know if I have a brain injury?

If you’re asking yourself this question, the safest approach is probably to make an appointment to see a health professional. If you experience any of the following signs and symptoms (listed below) then it’s vital that you see a doctor. If you are playing a game or engaged in another kind of activity – stop what you are doing. Don’t go back until you have had a proper check up.

What are the signs and symptoms of a brain injury?

• Confusion

• Dizziness

• Vomiting

• Loss of consciousness

• Ringing in ears

• Headaches

• Irritable

• Sleeping problems

• Depression

• Mood swings

If you think someone may have suffered a brain injury but seems fine, it’s important to monitor their behaviour because in some cases signs and symptoms may not be seen for a day or two following the initial blow or hit to the head.

How can I prevent brain injury?

It’s important to protect your head

• Wear a helmet while playing any sport where it is required. Such as, hockey, biking, snowboarding, lacrosse, baseball, football, skiing, etc.

• Don’t drink and drive • Wear a seatbelt while driving in a car

• Be aware and play sports responsibly – don’t play in a manner that will injure others

• Be aware of your surroundings, stairs, slippery or unstable floor, traffic, etc.

How can I help myself recover from a brain injury?

• The most important thing during your recovery period is to follow your doctor’s instructions and advice

• Be sure to stay positive and never get up on getting better

• Focus on what you can do today.

• Try not to compare yourself to how you were before the brain injury

• Get lots of rest

• Have patience, recovery takes time

• Stay away from drugs and alcohol, they will only make things worse


How can I help a family member or friend who has suffered a brain injury?

It’s important to extend a helping hand to family members or friends who’ve suffered a brain injury. Be patient with them, you may see changes in them they do not. Be supportive and listen to them, but at the same time look out for them; be sure they follow their doctor’s advice and are not doing things that can hamper their recovery.



Resources for teens and adults:

Youth Brain Injury Guide: A guide to help youth understand the affects of brain injury 

(Click here for French version)

Brain Injury in Adolescence A guide for young people, coaches, educators and those that work with youth

(Click here for French version)

The Teen Brain


Other helpful resources:

Brain Injury Association of Canada

ImPACT Test Canada

Sport Concussion Assessment Tool

Brain Fit Lab


Hockey Nova Scotia

Concussion Education

Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport

Sunnybrook RBC First Office for Injury Prevention

Brain Repair Centre

Play Safe Initiative

My Brain Online 

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