CNS Trauma

Back to Library

Head injury is one of the most common causes of disability and death in young men, mainly sustained during road traffic accidents and falls. Injury is divided into two types: 

• Non-missile trauma (closed head injury) is the result of acceleration/deceleration forces to the head.

• Missile trauma (open head injury) is caused by penetration of the skull or brain by an external object such as a bullet.

Brain pathology from head injury may be divided into two groups: primary or secondary

Brain pathology from head injury may be primary (i.e. the immediate consequence of impact damage) or secondary (i.e. occurring later from brain swelling, bleeding and hypoxia).

There are two main patterns of primary brain damage in non-missile head injury, cerebral contusions and diffuse axonal injury.

Cerebral contusions occur when the brain moves within the cranial cavity, causing parts of the brain to be crushed by violent contact with the skull or dural membranes. For the most part, these occur adjacent to the site of impact (coup lesions) and diagonally opposite (contrecoup lesions).
The most common sites for this pattern of damage are the underside of the frontal lobes, the tips and inferior aspects of the temporal lobes, the occipital poles, and the cerebellum.
Early contusions appear as petechial haemorrhage into cortical grey matter and underlying white matter.
Over a period of several hours there is oozing of blood, and contusions become haemorrhagic, with severe swelling of the brain. Severe contusions may be associated with extensive intracerebral, sub-arachnoid and sub-dural haemorrhage. Contusions heal by gliosis, which is associated with brown haemosiderin deposition (caused by associated haemorrhage).
Diffuse axonal injury is the result of shearing of axons due to acceleration/deceleration/torsional forces, leading to severe damage to white matter tracts. Patients with this pattern of damage who survive are generally severely disabled. Most of the changes are seen histologically only, consisting of axonal tearing visible as swellings of the torn ends of nerve fibres (axonal retraction balls). Petechial haemorrhages may also occur in the corpus callosum and brain stem, and their detection at these sites is a useful indicator of this type of severe head injury.

Secondary brain damage occurs after the immediate impact. Head injury is often associated with widespread trauma, which leads to problems maintaining blood oxygenation and blood pressure. As a consequence, head injury is often complicated by the development of secondary hypoxic brain damage and cerebral oedema.


Tearing of blood vessels with trauma leads to four main types of cerebral haemorrhage: intracerebral haematoma, caused by tearing of vessels within the brain parenchyma; sub-arachnoid haemorrhage, caused by tearing of vessels adjacent to the sub-arachnoid space; sub-dural haemorrhage, caused by tearing of veins (discussed below); and extradural haemorrhage, caused by tearing of vessels in the skull.

Extradural haemorrhage is caused by tearing of vessels running outside the dura 

Extradural haemorrhage causes a haematoma in the potential extradural space between the skull and the dura and is almost always the result of skull fracture, which tears an artery or a main venous sinus running outside the dura. The vessel most commonly involved is the middle meningeal artery (associated with fracture of the temporal bone).

The extradural haematoma appears as a gelatinous layer of blood clot outside the dura.
This accumulation causes compression of the brain and development of transtentorial herniation. In many cases, high-pressure arterial blood accumulates rapidly, leading to an acute decline in conscious level with raised intracranial pressure. In other cases, blood accumulates over a period of hours and it is not uncommon to have a history of head trauma followed by gradual development of drowsiness, leading to coma and death.
Some sub-dural haematomas are caused by minor head trauma and have a chronic evolution pattern.

Sub-dural haemorrhage results in a haematoma developing in the sub-dural space between the dura and the arachnoid. It is caused by traumatic tearing of venous vessels that traverse the sub-dural space. Two patterns exist.

Acute sub-dural haematomas are usually seen after a severe head injury and are associated with other types of brain injury. They cause rapid accumulation of blood, leading to acute neurological deterioration as a result of raised intracranial pressure.

Chronic sub-dural haematomas usually occur as a result of minimal trauma and are mainly seen in the very young (including childhood non-accidental injury) and the elderly. Blood typically accumulates slowly over a period of days or weeks, becoming localized by a membrane of fibrovascular granulation tissue. In addition to the osmotic effects of degenerating blood clot drawing in fluid from the CSF, increase in the size of the haematoma occurs with further bleeding. Clinical symptoms and signs may only become obvious weeks after an apparently trivial injury, as a result of raised intracranial pressure.

Macroscopically a sub-dural haematoma is seen as a layer of gelatinous blood clot (acute type) or as an organized layer of dark liquefied clot surrounded by membranes (chronic type), which flattens and compresses the underlying brain, staining the outside of the arachnoid with haemosiderin.
Trauma to the spinal cord is a common cause of disability in young men

Most spinal cord injuries occur in young males as a result of road traffic accidents, falls and sport.

Injury is mainly caused by fracture and dislocation of the vertebral column, causing compression of the spinal cord by distortion of the spinal canal. Minor contusions of the cord result in transient recoverable neurological abnormality. Severe contusions cause damage to ascending and descending tracts, as well as necrosis of neurons at the segments damaged. 

The consequence of cord damage depends on the spinal level of the injury; cervical lesions cause tetraplegia, whereas lower thoracic lesions cause paraplegia. Denervated muscles undergo atrophy, with secondary contractures and deformities in limbs. Denervation of the bladder leads to problems with micturition, urinary stasis and recurrent infections.
Penetrating injuries of the spinal cord are uncommon, but may be seen after stabbings or shootings. Complete transection of the cord may occur, hemisection giving rise to a Brown-Séquard syndrome.

In addition to trauma, the spinal cord and nerve roots are vulnerable to damage by non-traumatic compression.
Interested in translating health topics to somali language!

We give here simplified and accurate information about the disease

DISCLAIMER: This website is provided for general information and it's run by medical students for medical students only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We are not responsible or liable for any diagnosis or action made by a user based on the content of this website. We are not liable for the contents of any external websites listed, nor do we endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. Always consult your own doctor if you are in any way concerned about your health

Advertising | Conditions of use | Privacy policy | Webmaster
Copyright © 2007 []. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02-11-2014.