What causes traumatic brain injury (TBI)?

A TBI is caused by an external force that injures the brain. It can occur when a person’s head is hit, bumped, or jolted. It also can occur when an object, such as a bullet, pierces the skull or when the body is shaken or hit hard enough to cause the brain to slam into the skull.

Among the leading causes of TBI are falls, motor vehicle crashes and traffic-related accidents, being struck by or against an object, and assaults.1

Many TBIs, especially in young people, happen while people are playing sports or doing recreational activities. Some activities that lead to emergency department visits for TBI are bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball, and soccer.2 Learn more by viewing NICHD’s video external link and infographic on TBI in kids.

In the military, the leading causes of TBI are gunshots, fragments from an explosion, blasts, falls, motor vehicle crashes, and assaults.3


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). TBI: Get the facts. Retrieved March 20, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html
  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2020). Traumatic brain injury: Hope through research. Retrieved March 20, 2020, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Traumatic-Brain-Injury-Hope-Through
  3. Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. (2020). TBI and the military. Retrieved March 20, 2020, from http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/about/tbi-military external link
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