Traumatic Brain Injuries in Children: Causes and Prevention

19 March 2024

Romilly Houghton, Head of the Child Brain Injury Department at Irvings Law, explains the causes of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and how it can be prevented.

Traumatic Brain Injuries in Children: Causes and Prevention

19 March 2024

Romilly Houghton, Head of the Child Brain Injury Department at Irvings Law, explains the causes of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and how it can be prevented.

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What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Traumatic brain injury (‘TBI’) is an injury to the head caused externally by a blow, jolt, or penetrating object that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain.

The effects of such trauma to the brain in childhood may not always be apparent straight away, but they can be life-long and severe if left untreated.

Most children recover from a TBI with no lasting damage. In extreme cases, however, TBI in children can lead to permanent disability and even death.

There are three types of acquired TBI:

Closed-head injuries

This type of traumatic head injury is the most common in children. The injury is referred to as ‘closed’ because the skull is not broken, and the brain is not exposed.

These types of injuries are often caused by car accidents where a sudden jolt forces the head to move rapidly. The head is rocked back and forth or rotated, and the brain bumps around inside the skull.

The movement taking place inside of the head can produce widespread damage throughout the brain, known as diffuse acquired brain injury.

The front of the skull has sharp bony ridges with which the brain can also collide, causing more damage.

Open or penetrating injuries

This is a less common head injury among children. ‘Open’ means that the skull is cracked, and the brain is exposed. This might have happened during some kind of collision or impact, such as from a knife or bullet.

In most cases, this type of injury will be combined with a closed head injury.

Crushing injuries

In this type of injury, the head is caught between two hard objects and is met with force from either side. Usually, the base of the skull and the nerves of the brain stem will be damaged rather than the brain itself.

This is the least common form of acquired traumatic brain injury in children.

Common causes of Traumatic Brain Injury in children 

There are lots of ways that a child can sustain a TBI. To provide a few examples:


Falls are one of the leading causes of TBI in children. A child may sustain a brain injury due to falling from objects like ladders and open windows.

The presence of external trip hazards, such as obstructed walkways, can also result in falls and subsequent injury to the brain.

An unresolved slip hazard, such as a wet or slippery floor, may result in your child becoming unsteady on their feet and cause them to fall.

Vehicle-related collisions

Due to the speeds involved, road traffic accidents involving cars, motorcycles or bicycles are one of the most common causes of TBI in children. Children may be injured as passengers or pedestrians.


Domestic violence, child abuse and other assaults are all causes of TBI in children. Shaken baby syndrome is a traumatic brain injury in infants caused by violent shaking.

Sports injuries

Traumatic brain injuries may be caused by injuries from a number of sports, particularly combat sports, including football, hockey, baseball, cricket and other high-impact or extreme sports.

Signs and symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury in children 

Traumatic brain injury can produce a range of long-term physical impairments and psychological consequences in your child. Some signs or symptoms may develop immediately after the traumatic event, while others may appear days or weeks later. In a child with TBI, you may observe:

Physical and Physiological Signs

  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Bleeding, bruising, or swelling to the head
  • Fatigue, tiredness, or drowsiness
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Change in eating or nursing habits
  • Problems with vision or hearing
  • Speech or communication difficulties
  • Loss of balance or trouble walking
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • A bad taste in the mouth
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

Cognitive and Intellectual Signs

  • Memory and learning issues
  • Increased confusion, agitation, or restlessness
  • Trouble with concentration, attention, or thinking
  • Mood, behaviour, or personality changes
  • Poor reasoning or judgement
  • Lack of interest or motivation

You should always speak to a doctor if your child has suffered an injury to the head (or body) that gives cause for concern.

Seek emergency medical assistance if your child experiences any signs or symptoms of a TBI following a recent blow or other injury to the head.

How can I help prevent my child from having a Traumatic Brain Injury?

It is very important to teach your child about all types of safety. The following recommendations can help to reduce the risk of TBIs in children:

  • Make sure your child wears a safety helmet when riding a bicycle or using other wheeled toys. It is important that your child wears head protection when playing sports like hockey or cricket. Make sure that protective sports gear fits correctly.
  • Make sure your child is wearing a seat belt when riding in any vehicle. Younger children are safer in the back seat of a car secured in a child safety seat or booster seat that is appropriate for their age and weight.
  • Refrain from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
  • Install window guards and stair safety gates at home where required.
  • Keep stairs and other walkways clear of clutter.
  • Put a nonslip mat in the bathtub or shower.
  • Work to ensure safe playing environments for children. Use playgrounds that have shock-absorbing materials on the ground.
  • Make sure that rugs are secure.
  • Prevent your child from playing on balconies or around fire escapes.
Author’s profile

If your child has sustained a brain injury from an accident or incident that was someone else’s fault, your child might be entitled to compensation for their injuries.

Romilly Houghton is the Head of the Child Brain Injury Department at Irvings Law and is a specialist solicitor representing children and their families in claims for compensation arising out of clinical negligence and accidents.

If you have any questions about your child’s entitlement to compensation following a traumatic brain injury then Romilly Houghton at Irvings Law can offer you a free, confidential and ‘no strings attached’ discussion.

Romilly Houghton

Email [email protected]

Mobile 07896 815 165


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