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What’s the Difference Between a TBI and a Head Injury?

Head Injury vs Brain Injury vs TBI | TBI Lawyer

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a specific type of head injury involving brain damage. While all TBIs are classified as head injuries, not all head injuries qualify as TBIs.

TBI v Head Injury | TBI AttorneyThat distinction is crucial because it can clarify:

  • The possible prognoses and the chances for full recovery
  • The best course of treatment for the injured
  • The extent and potential impacts of the injuries, both in the short and long terms
  • The available damages if the injured party pursues a legal claim

Detailing these differences more, this guide on head injuries versus TBIs explains:

Clinical Definition of a Head Injury vs. a TBI

The medical community generally defines a head injury as any trauma affecting the brain, skull, and/or scalp, according to the latest entries in the medical encyclopedia. As such, head injuries can be classified as:

  1. Closed head injuries, in which some force or object strikes the head without cracking the skull
  2. Open or penetrating head injuries, which involve the skull breaking open

Clinical Definition of a Head Injury vs. a TBI | TBI LawyersIn contrast, a traumatic brain injury is generally defined as trauma that damages brain functioning. Consequently, TBIs can be classified as:

  • Mild traumatic brain injury, which tends to be marked by mild, generic symptoms and can include concussions
  • Moderate TBIs, which can involve damage to one or more areas of the brain
  • Severe TBIs, which can result in irreversible damage that, in the worst cases, can be life-threatening

Notably, TBIs can also be defined as closed or penetrating injuries, and the latest statistics reveal more about the incidence and prevalence of head injuries versus TBIs in the U.S.:

  • About 1 in 6 hospital admissions is related to TBI treatment.
  • Every day in 2021, roughly 190 people in the U.S. died as a result of TBI complications.
  • Young children, teens, and adults over the age of 65 tend to have the greatest risk of suffering head injuries and TBIs.

What Types of Accidents Can Cause Head Injuries vs. TBIs?

Any incident in which some force or object damages the head or brain can cause a head injury or a TBI. Usually, however, both head injuries and TBIs tend to be caused by accidents involving:

  • Falls: Close to 50% of all hospitalizations for TBIs are the result of falling accidents. While falls from elevated areas can cause both head injuries and TBIs, same-level falls (like a trip-and-fall accident on a cracked sidewalk) can also cause devastating head and brain injuries.
  • Motor vehicles: Traffic collisions are another leading cause of both head and brain injuries. In fact, auto accidents tend to cause the most severe head and brain injuries when motorists are traveling at high speeds, when seatbelts aren’t worn, and when head-on collisions occur.
  • Work accidents: Along with falls at work, other accidents in the workplace — like entrapments, entanglements, and crushing incidents — can also cause serious head and brain injuries. So can workplace assaults.
  • Dangerous properties: Unsafe premises can mean risks of falls, falling objects, physical attacks, motor vehicle accidents, and/or other harmful incidents at properties. Any of these could also contribute to head and brain damage.
  • Dangerous products: Risky products can explode, collapse, or otherwise malfunction, causing accidents and incidents that may also damage the head and/or brain.

These are not the only factors that can be involved in causing head injuries and TBIs — and after any injury-causing event, it’s not always clear whether a victim has suffered head or brain trauma.

That’s why it’s generally crucial to contact authorities and emergency responders after more serious accidents. Prompt medical attention can provide life-saving care when victims have suffered severe head injuries or TBIs. In milder cases, getting medical care ASAP could mean better prognoses.

The Symptoms and Signs of Head Injuries versus TBIs

Head injuries and TBIs may share some of the same general symptoms, with the more common ones featured in the table below.


Psychological Symptoms

Loss of consciousness




Dilated pupils

Sensory impairments

Sensitivity to light and/or sound

Slurred speech

Memory problems

Mood swings

Concentration difficulties



Beyond these more generic symptoms, head injuries and TBIs can also display more specific symptoms. The nature and severity of those symptoms will usually depend on:

  • The area(s) of the head or brain that have been damaged: If multiple areas have suffered damage, the symptoms can be more extensive and debilitating when compared to injuries that are localized to one area.
  • The extent or degree of the damage sustained: While penetrating injuries tend to be the most damaging to the head and brain, excessive force can also cause extensive trauma and more severe symptoms.

Notably, however, it’s crucial to understand that head injuries and TBIs can have symptoms that are:

  • Slow to present themselves, possibly with latent symptoms in early stages (for milder injuries)
  • Generic and easy to confuse as symptoms of other conditions
  • Likely to develop and/or worsen over time, especially in the absence of proper and prompt treatments

How to Recover from a Head Injury vs. a TBI

How to Recover from a Head Injury vs. a TBI | TBI AttorneysNo two head injury or TBI patients will face the exact same road to recovery because of the highly personalized and nuanced nature of these injuries. In other words, treatments for head and brain damage are usually customized to fit the specific nature of the injury and a patient’s medical history. Consequently, it usually takes time — and a team of medical professionals — to devise the best course of treatment for a given head injury or TBI patient.

No matter what the specifics of that treatment look like, medical treatments may be just an aspect of the recovery process. Another key part can come via legal action, with a head injury or TBI claim helping accident victims seek justice and financial recoveries for the trauma and losses they’ve suffered. To find out more about these options for recovering from a head or brain injury, simply contact a catastrophic injury lawyer.