What causes 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. The leading causes of TBI are falls, motor vehicle crashes and traffic-related incidents, collisions with an object, and assaults.1

Sports and recreational activities are also a significant cause of TBI, especially among young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for preventing brain injury when playing various sports.

In the military, the leading causes of TBI are bullets, fragments, blasts, falls, motor vehicle crashes, and assaults.2

Preventing TBI

Some causes of TBI are avoidable. The list below offers some ways to help prevent TBI.

  • 6 ways to help prevent traumatic brain injuryAlways wear a seat belt when riding in a motor vehicle.
  • Make sure a child in a car is protected with a child safety seat and/or seat belt.
  • Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Wear a helmet and make sure children wear the appropriate helmets for such activities as bike-riding, skateboarding, and playing certain sports.
  • Make living areas safer for older people with measures such as removing rugs and other tripping hazards and improving lighting throughout the home.
  • Install window guards to keep young children from falling out of windows, and use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around.3

Another preventable cause of TBI is shaken baby syndrome (SBS). The syndrome can occur when an infant is shaken violently or hit. Nearly all victims of SBS suffer serious health consequences, and many babies who are violently shaken die. Preventing SBS involves helping people understand the dangers of shaking a baby, the risk factors and the triggers for SBS, and how to support overstressed parents and caregivers.4 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers additional information on SBS(PDF - 7.3 MB).


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). What are the leading causes of TBI? Retrieved May 24, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/causes.html
  2. Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. (2011). TBI and the military. Retrieved May 24, 2012, from https://dvbic.dcoe.mil/tbi-military External Web Site Policy
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Traumatic brain injury: Prevention. Retrieved May 24, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/prevention.html
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Preventing abusive head trauma in children. Retrieved April 6, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/Abusive-Head-Trauma.html

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