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Head Injuries





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Bumps on the Head:

What can you expect if you or a cycling partner receives a severe head injury?

The National Institute of Handicapped Research defines severe head injury as, "serious traumatic injury to the brain requiring extensive services over an extended period of time." Much remains to be learned about the incidence and course of severe head trauma, but some facts are known about head injuries: The exact damage is hard to predict. The symptoms of severe head injury can vary greatly depending upon the extent and location of brain damage. Damage is not always confined to the point of injury. In many cases of brain injury the brain crashes violently against the skull on several sides causing diverse injury and symptoms unrelated to the functions associated with the specific part of the brain suffering acute injury. Damage at a specific location will cause specific symptoms. Person with damage to the left side of the brain often experience communication problems related to speech, comprehension, and reading and writing skills. They also often suffer paralysis or impaired functioning of the right side of the body. Person with damage to the right side of the brain often have impaired function of the left side of the body. Spatial perception and judgment are particularly vulnerable. Damage to either side can result in sensory impairments related to touch, vision, pain, and temperature and position sense. Often both sides of the body are impaired. Usually some communication, judgment and perception problems occur regardless of which side of the brain was damaged. Furthermore, people working with head injured clients often report their clients suffer from varying degrees of memory loss and impaired learning ability. Personality changes and lack of emotional control are also common. This then results in complications with the client's relationship to family and friends -- resources critical to successful rehabilitation.

In addition to the deficits discussed above, several secondary conditions are common, including the following:


  • Muscle contractures
  • Spasticity of muscles
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Seizures
  • Shoulder problems.


  • Depression
  • Loss of Judgment
  • Memory loss
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Impulsiveness
  • Headaches (may be medical or psychological).

About 10 to 25 percent of brain injured people return to work within two years if they rely on the existing service system. Almost all brain injured people are able to live in community, non-institutional settings, using minimal local resources. Early intervention and timely rehabilitation services are critical to attaining maximum independence. Sheltered workshop settings are appropriate for many of the severely injured people who could not work full- time or meet competitive job standards.

The National Head Injury and Spinal Cord Injury Survey studied the extent of head and spinal injury in the U.S. and determined the following figures:

  • In the early '70s, about 422,00 Americans per year were admitted to hospitals with head injuries. This figure represents about 200 out of every 100,000 persons.
  • In 1974, the estimated cost of head injury in the 48 contiguous states was $2.4 billion ($3.9 billion in 1980 dollars).
  • The incidence of head injuries among males is almost twice that among females.
  • Males fifteen to twenty-four years of age incurred more head injuries than any other age group.
  • Motor vehicles accidents (including bicycle victims) cause nearly one- half of all head injuries. Sporting activities are another major contributor. The more serious the injury, the greater the likelihood that it was caused by a motor vehicle accident.
  • Head injuries occur most frequently on weekends.

Tragically, the severity of many brain injuries are controllable by preventative measures.
Adapted from "Rehab Brief", Vol V, No. 5, National Institute of Handicapped Research

For more information on head injury.

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