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What is mTBI? A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: May 20, 2023

Aug 3, 2022 1:36:50 PM

A brain injury is no light matter. More than 200,000 Americans were hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury in 2019. It's likely that thousands of others sustained injuries but did not seek medical attention.

Yet not all of these cases were alike. Some people experienced a mild TBI (mTBI). If you're looking to get help for yourself or someone with a brain injury, you need to know about mTBI.

What is mTBI? What are its symptoms and complications? How can you receive treatment for an injury?

Answer these questions and you may heal after a brain injury. Here is your comprehensive guide.

The Basics of a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

A mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is an injury to the head that affects brain functioning. It can occur whenever someone strikes their head. The skull does not have to break and an object does not have to enter the brain in order for an mTBI to occur.

Man Falling Off His Bike

Your brain is encased inside your skull, which contains fluid. But your brain can move around inside your skull if your body moves quickly or forcibly.

According to the FDA, a mTBI occurs when your brain moves in a direction that damages brain cells. The cells may become torn, or they bend at an awkward angle. The brain may also collide with the skull, damaging cells.

Even if the tear or bend corrects itself, your brain functioning may become impaired. Any part of the brain can be damaged, though most people damage their frontal and temporal lobes.

A concussion is another term for a mild traumatic brain injury. It does not refer to a separate or more severe injury.

An mTBI is just one type of brain injury a person can experience. Yet it can be hard to tell the difference between a concussion and a severe traumatic brain injury. Both cause similar symptoms, and both can lead to long-term impairments.

Causes of mTBIs

3.8 million sports-related mTBIs occur every year. Many athletes experience mTBIs after head-to-head collisions on the field. A brain injury can also occur if someone collides with a stationary object like a crash pad or the ground.

According to the National Institute of Health, car accidents can lead to mTBIs, even if someone does not strike their head. Being thrown in one direction can cause the brain to move, resulting in damage to brain cells. Low-speed collisions can result in mTBIs, especially if someone is not wearing a seatbelt.

Woman That Was Just In A Car Accident Has A Headache

As many as 300,000 soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan live with mTBIs. Some of these soldiers experienced falls and car accidents that led to their injuries.

But many of them sustained injuries after explosions. Even though their skulls remained intact, the force of the explosion moved their brain, damaging cells.

An October 2020 study examined how punches to the face can cause brain damage. A punch to the face can cause the brain to move backward and collide with the back of the skull. Being hit on the head with a blunt object can also damage cells in the back and push the brain to the front.

The number of women who have experienced brain injuries is 11 to 12 times higher than the number of brain injuries amongst soldiers and athletes combined. One reason why is domestic violence. Survivors of domestic violence are likely to experience many blows to the head, each of which can lead to a brain injury.

Woman Pushing Man Away From Counter


Not everyone experiences a mild traumatic brain injury in the same way. However, many people with mTBI experience a set of symptoms that can occur within hours of their injury. Symptoms can last for weeks or months, even with treatment.

Many people develop a headache. The headache may be painful, stabbing, or searing. The pain may become more severe if someone tries to sit up or walk around.

A person may become nauseous. They may struggle to keep food and water down, even if they are hungry. Their nausea can lead to heaving or vomiting.

Someone may become fatigued, drowsy, or confused. They may sleep more than usual, or they may experience difficulty falling asleep.

They may need to lie down after walking short distances or standing up. They may also ask to lie down because they are feeling dizzy.

Some people have blurred vision or difficulty looking into bright lights. They may develop a ringing in their ears, which can become worse after hearing loud noises.

Woman With A Headache Taking Off Her Glasses

Some people may lose consciousness for a few seconds or a few minutes. But not everyone who experiences a brain injury passes out. A person may have difficulty remembering what happened and they may struggle to concentrate.

A person may struggle with mood swings. They may experience irritability and anger at minor inconveniences. They may also become anxious for no apparent reason.

Children generally show the same symptoms as adults. An infant or toddler may not be able to say that they have a headache or are confused. But a change in eating habits, persistent crying, and seizures can indicate that your child has an injury.


The prognosis of a brain injury varies from person to person. Some people take a few years to make their recoveries.

In the meantime, the symptoms of their injury may linger. Someone may experience a recurring headache, which can make it hard to perform work or focus on tasks.

Someone may also experience difficulty with their emotions. They may become frustrated easily, or they may experience severe mood swings. These mood swings can be troubling to family members who witness them.

People with traumatic brain injuries are 50% more likely to develop sleep disorders. This includes conditions like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can cause sleepiness and mood swings, which can make the symptoms of a TBI worse.

People who experience an mTBI are three times more likely to develop depression. The risk remains for decades after the mTBI event, and it occurs across all demographics.

Experiencing one mTBI may not increase someone's risk for dementia or brain disease. But repeated injuries can increase a person's risk, though scientists are uncertain about how much. On rare occasions, experiencing another mTBI while recovering from an mTBI can lead to dangerous swelling in the brain.

Brain Scans


Anyone who experiences a blow to the head should go to their doctor for treatment. The symptoms of mTBI overlap with other brain injuries and conditions, and a person may have multiple severe injuries at once.

A doctor can order a CT scan. A CT scan uses several X-rays to create images of a person's brain, allowing doctors to spot damaged brain tissues and blood clots. Bruised or swollen tissues usually indicate that someone has mTBI.

There is no formal diagnostic test for an mTBI yet. Bruised brain tissues may indicate other things. A doctor needs to conduct a full medical evaluation before determining that someone has a brain injury.


There is no known cure for an mTBI. It's unclear why some people make a full recovery while others don't.

A person can take a few medications to manage their injury. Anti-seizure drugs can diminish a person's chance of having a seizure while their brain heals. Diuretics can reduce pressure inside the brain, preventing damage from swelling.

If someone has a blood clot, they may receive surgery to have it removed. A broken skull may also lead to surgery, which can result in the removal of broken pieces.

Most people who experience brain injuries benefit from physical and occupational therapy. Someone who has difficulty moving can work with a physical therapist on coordinating their arms and legs. If they have trouble speaking or concentrating, they can do exercises with a therapist to regain their abilities.

Woman At A Physical Therapists Working On Her Head & Neck

Support groups are available for people struggling with mental health issues or physical pain. Someone can also take private sessions with a psychiatrist to get help with depression and anxiety.

A person may return to work after a few weeks. Developing a routine can help them get their tasks done on time and stay focused. They should take breaks if they are feeling tired and talk to someone if they become stressed.

What Is a mTBI?

What is a mTBI? It is a mild traumatic brain injury, caused when the brain moves in a manner that damages brain cells.

After sustaining a TBI, the symptoms you begin to experience can be overwhelming. Sallie® aims to ease this feeling, by being an incredibly easy-to-use, and free, symptom-tracking dashboard.

Using the dashboard at the beginning of one’s recovery can help them to identify symptoms and triggers. Our robust data collection approach includes a multitude of speech symptoms for our users to track.

Identifying that you may be experiencing difficulties with headaches and memory loss could be the first step towards recognizing your possible need to introduce occupational therapy and Sallie® into your recovery plan.

Take hold of your brain injury recovery today! Register here for Sallie®.

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