Dr. Ngo with brain injury patient

Types of Brain Injuries: Traumatic vs. Non-Traumatic

Medical Reviewer: Kenneth Ngo, MD
Last Updated: April 9, 2024

Traumatic vs Non-Traumatic Brain Injury

Around 1.7 million people in the United States suffer a traumatic brain injury and need immediate medical attention each year. Of this number, people aged between 15 and 19 and adults aged between 65 and older are more susceptible to a traumatic brain injury.

Just as no two people are exactly alike, you also won’t find two exact brain injuries. Brooks Rehabilitation provides a patient-centered treatment approach for each traumatic brain injury while observing the patient’s goals setting and preferred choice of treatment procedures. We will explore traumatic brain injury treatment and rehabilitation in-depth.

Types of Brain Injuries

Acquired brain injuries (ABIs) are damage done to this miraculous and mysterious organ after birth — those that aren’t due to congenital, hereditary, or degenerative conditions, or trauma during delivery.

ABIs can be categorized as either traumatic or non-traumatic.

Non-Traumatic Brain Injuries

A non-traumatic brain injury can broadly be described as any brain injury not caused by external physical force, such as a blow to the head. This definition encompasses a wide variety of conditions that can be caused by a range of incitements, including aneurysm, metabolic disorder, or heart attack or other disease.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), on the other hand, are those injuries caused by outside force. Doctors typically group TBIs into closed injuries — like concussions — and open (penetrating) injuries. Closed TBIs refer to injuries that do not fracture the victim’s skull, while open brain injuries result from the breaking or penetration of the skull bone, leaving the brain exposed and vulnerable to the elements.


Concussions account for thousands of emergency room visits annually. A concussion jolts the victim’s brain, causing it to accelerate toward the external force. It can be caused by a sudden hard blow to the head, as in a fall or vehicle accident. In simpler terms, a concussion shakes the victim’s brain, and may result in bruising or bleeding of the brain.

Penetrating Brain Injuries

This traumatic brain injury occurs when an object pierces through the victim’s skull, possibly causing the object, parts of the object, hair, or skull fragments to come into contact with the brain. Penetrating brain injuries may cause serious complications to a large or concentrated part of the brain.

Hypoxic vs Anoxic Brain Injuries

Both traumatic and non-traumatic injuries can cause hypoxia (restriction of oxygen flow) or anoxia (deprivation of oxygen) in parts of the brain, with serious and even life-threatening consequences.

Hypoxic Brain Injury

Hypoxic brain injury occurs because of a restriction of oxygen supply to the brain. The restricted oxygen flow to vital parts of the brain will cause the gradual impairment and death of brain cells.

Anoxic Brain Injury

Anoxic brain injuries result from the brain being deprived of oxygen for prolonged periods. Neutral, or less critical cells start to die more rapidly through a process called apoptosis when left without oxygen for long periods. While cell death is a natural process, the trauma victim may experience diminished brain function when many brain cells die simultaneously. Anoxic brain injuries can become fatal if the oxygen deprivation continues.

Brain Injury Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation programs for patients with brain injuries are very client-oriented, and unique to each patient’s case and treatment options. As the patient’s condition improves, the rehabilitation programs may become more or less intensive, depending on many variables, including:

  • Nature and severity of the brain injury
  • Type and degree of resulting disabilities and impairments
  • Overall health of the patient
  • Family support

Brain injury rehabilitation helps the patient to return to their highest level of brain function, allowing them their best possible independence while improving their overall quality of life. Brooks Rehabilitation offers an assortment of treatments and programs, all customizable to each patient’s individual circumstances.

Disorders of Consciousness

The Disorders of Consciousness (DOC) program helps patients with severe brain injuries. These patients may not have fully regained their level of consciousness, or have the ability to follow instructions consistently, communicate reliably, or perform basic self-care.

Brooks Rehabilitation uses a systemic, evidence-based approach that enrolls patients in 5-6 days of occupational, physical, and cognitive therapy. Evaluations of the patient’s responses, physical mobility, ongoing medication and medical management, and stimulation application and management by the physician are revised based on the patient’s progress.

Physical Therapy Exercises

A traumatic brain injury may compromise the patient’s physical functionality. In this case, physical therapy (physiotherapy) aims to improve the patient’s movement and mobility. This rehabilitative practice incorporates the patient’s evaluation, assessment, and treatment regarding limitations in functional mobility.

Physical therapy exercises rehabilitate brain injuries that disrupt the patient’s normal movement pattern, facilitating their recovery by optimizing their strength and range of motion through tailored exercises and other physiotherapy interventions.

Occupational Therapy Exercises

Occupational therapy is intended to enhance the brain injury patient’s ability to perform basic self-care activities, engage in leisure activities, and do other useful work. This rehabilitation program helps improve the patient’s motor skills.

Occupational therapy is client-centered and involves ongoing assessments to help them understand what activities they can and cannot do, their current limitations, goals, and how to perform other tasks more easily and safely.

Cognitive Rehab Techniques

Cognitive rehabilitation therapy refers to a group of therapies aimed at restoring the patient’s cognitive function after a traumatic brain injury, stroke, concussion, or presentation of multiple sclerosis, dementia, or other medical issues. This rehabilitation technique may involve memory, social behavior, safety judgment, attention, and planning and executing future actions.

Psychotherapy Techniques

Psychotherapy is based on conversations between the patient and a trained psychotherapist or counselor. The conversation between the patient and the therapist discusses parts of the patient’s life that they would like to improve. Talking with the client is one of the best avenues to discuss other experiences while trying to learn more from the patient and better understand their injuries and perspective.

Explore Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Options with Brooks Rehabilitation Today

Brooks Rehabilitation is passionate about providing the best care to patients with brain injuries of all types. We empower our employees to help patients reach their highest healing and recovery levels.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help someone you love who has suffered a brain injury to live their best life.

Medical Reviewer

Kenneth Ngo, MD

Medical Director of Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital – University Campus, Medical Director of the Brain Injury Program & Brain Injury Day Treatment Program
Dr. Ngo is Board-Certified in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, with a subspecialty board certification in Brain Injury Medicine and has been at Brooks Rehabilitation since 2010. Dr. Ngo provides care for patients with complex, catastrophic neurological and other brain injuries, both inpatient and outpatient through the entire continuum of brain injury rehabilitation.
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