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Can A Low-Speed Crash Cause A Traumatic Brain Injury?

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A recent study found that 37% of car crash victims admitted to hospital were diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury, majority (79%) of which were defined as minor. Mild TBIs occur more often in women, younger drivers, and those who were wearing seat-belts at the time of the crash. It is important to check for brain injury too, and not just neck injury, after a low-speed car crash.

There is certainly a lot of interest in concussion these days between big screen movies, football, and other sports-related injuries.

Concussion, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) are often used interchangeably. Though mTBI is not the first thing we think about in a low-speed motor vehicle collision (MVC), it does happen.

Statistics On Traumatic Brain Injuries Due To Vehicle Collisions

So, how often do MVC-related TBIs occur, how does one know they have it, and is it usually permanent or long lasting? Here are some interesting statistics:

  1. The incidence rate of fatal and hospitalized TBI in 1994 was estimated to be 91/100,000 (~1%).
  2. Each year in the United States, for every person who dies from a brain injury, five are admitted to hospitals and an additional 26 seek treatment for TBI.
  3. About 80% of TBIs are considered mild (mTBI).
  4. Many mTBIs result from MVCs, but little is known or reported about the crash characteristics.
  5. The majority (about 80%) of mTBI improve within three months, while 20% have symptoms for more than six months that can include memory issues, depression, and cognitive difficulty (formulating thought and staying on task). Long-term, unresolved TBI is often referred to as “post-concussive syndrome.”

In one study, researchers followed car crash victims who were admitted into the hospital and found 37.7% were diagnosed with TBI, of which the majority (79%) were defined as minor by a tool called Maximum Abbreviated Injury Scale (MAIS) with a score of one or two (out of a possible six) for head injuries.

In contrast to more severe TBIs, mild TBIs occur more often in women, younger drivers, and those who were wearing seat-belts at the time of the crash. Mild TBI is also more prevalent in frontal vs. lateral (“T-bone”) crashes.

How Do You Know If You Have Mild Brain Injury?

As stated previously, we do not think about our brains being injured in a car crash as much as we do other areas of our body that may be injured – like the neck. In fact, most patients only talk about their pain, and their doctor of chiropractic has to specifically ask them about their brain-related symptoms.

An instrument called the Traumatic Brain Injury Questionnaire can be helpful as a screen and can be repeated to monitor improvement.

Techniques Used In Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosis

Advanced imaging has come a long way in helping show nerve damage associated with TBI such as DTI (diffuse tensor imaging), but it is not quite yet readily available.

Functional MRI (fMRI) and a type of PET scanning (FDG-PET) help as well, but brain profusion SPECT, which measures the blood flow within the brain and activity patterns at this time, seems the most sensitive.

Dr. Blake Kalkstein DC, MS, CCSP, TPI, ART

While earning his D.C. degree, Dr. Blake worked as a chiropractic intern at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in Bethesda, MD where he had the privilege to work in the amputee rehabilitation center. Dr. Blake’s post graduate sports medicine internship with John’s Hopkins Sports Medicine orthopedic surgeons allowed him to observe all types of injuries. Guidance from Dr. John Wilckens, team orthopedist for the Baltimore Orioles and his internship supervisor, led Dr. Blake to better understand advanced orthopedic and sports injuries and ways to appropriately manage each condition.

Dr. Blake Kalkstein DC, MS, CCSP, TPI, ART

While earning his D.C. degree, Dr. Blake worked as a chiropractic intern at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in Bethesda, MD where he had the privilege to work in the amputee rehabilitation center. Dr. Blake’s post graduate sports medicine internship with John’s Hopkins Sports Medicine orthopedic surgeons allowed him to observe all types of injuries. Guidance from Dr. John Wilckens, team orthopedist for the Baltimore Orioles and his internship supervisor, led Dr. Blake to better understand advanced orthopedic and sports injuries and ways to appropriately manage each condition.