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Tramatic Brain and Spine Injuries

As parents we work hard to protect our children and keep them out of harm's way. But short of building a protective bubble around them, accidents happen. When your child suffers a serious injury to the brain or spine, finding the right care is critical to their recovery. When you choose the team of specialists at the Jane and John Justin Neurosciences Center at Cook Children's, you can trust that your child is in the care of some the most respected and amazing neuro specialists in the country.

What causes them?

Babies can be injured at birth, and as they grow all the way into the young adult years, injuries can happen. Most cases are accidental, such as a bicycle, horseback riding, motorcycle or car crash, skiing or diving incident, a serious fall, a sports injury, etc. Among infants, the most common is a brachial plexus.

Traumatic spine injuries

Symptoms

  • Extreme pain the neck, arms or legs
  • Persistent tingling anywhere in the body
  • Loss of feeling in one or more limbs or the entire body
IMPORTANT: IF YOU SUSPECT ANY KIND OF DAMAGE AT ALL TO YOUR CHILD'S SPINE, DO NOT MOVE THEM. IF THEY HAVE BEEN MOVING, HAVE THEM SIT OR LIE STILL AND TRANSPORT THEM TO THE COOK CHILDREN'S EMERGENCY ROOM VIA AMBULANCE. MOVING AN INJURED SPINE CAN RESULT IN MORE DAMAGE THAT IS SOMETIME IRREVERSIBLE.

Diagnosis

The doctor will take a complete medical history, including details of the injury, and perform a physical exam. In addition, a thorough evaluation by a pediatric neurologist and neurosurgeon will be needed to determine the best plan of treatment for your child. Testing will most likely include one or more of the following:

Once the extent of your child's injury is determined, your doctor will discuss treatment options and work closely with you and your family to determine the best course of action to take.

Treatment

The type of treatment your child requires will depend on the seriousness of the injury. Most of the time all that is needed is medication to ease the pain and physical therapy. However, in more serious cases, surgery may be necessary. If your child does need surgery, physical and occupational therapy will most likely be a part of the treatment plan as well. Sometimes a spinal injury can take a long time for healing and recovery. For that reason, you and your child will have the support of your medical team, including neuro specialists, nurses, and physical and occupational therapists. Other members of the support team may include a psychotherapist, social worker, Child Life specialist, sibling support and a variety of support groups to help you and your child get back to as normal a pre-accident life as possible.

Traumatic head injuries

The head is designed to protect the brain. The brain is surrounded by the skull and cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid, but a severe blow to the head may knock the brain into the side of the skull or tear blood vessels. Some internal head injuries – complications of a fractured skull, torn blood vessels, or damage to the brain itself – can be serious and possibly life threatening.

Different levels of injury require different levels of concern. It can be difficult to determine the level of injury, so it's always wise to discuss a head injury with your doctor.

Symptoms

Call 911 if your child shows any of these symptoms after a head injury:

  • Unconsciousness for more than a few minutes
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Obvious serious wound
  • Bleeding or clear fluid from the nose, ear, or mouth
  • Disturbance of speech or vision
  • Pupils of unequal size
  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Seizure

If your child is unconscious:

  • Do not try to move your child in case there is a neck or spine injury.
  • Call for help.
  • Turn a child who is vomiting or having a seizure onto his or her side while trying to keep the head and neck straight. This will help prevent choking and provide protection in case of neck and spine injury.
  • If your child is conscious:
  • Do your best to keep your child calm and still.
  • If there's bleeding, apply a clean or sterile bandage.
  • Do not attempt to cleanse the wound, which may aggravate bleeding and/or cause serious complications if the skull is fractured.
  • Do not apply direct pressure to the wound if you suspect the skull is fractured.
  • Do not remove any object that's stuck in the wound.

Concussions

Concussions are also a type of internal head injury. A concussion is the temporary loss of normal brain function due to an injury. Repeated concussions can result in permanent injury to the brain. However, it's possible to get a concussion that's mild and doesn't result in long-term damage.

One of the most common reasons kids get concussions is through sports, so make sure yours wear appropriate protective gear and don't let them continue to play if they've had a head injury.

If your child sustains an injury to the head, watch for these signs of a possible concussion:

  • "Seeing stars" and feeling dazed, dizzy, or lightheaded memory loss, such as trouble remembering what happened right before and after the injury
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision and sensitivity to light
  • Slurred speech or saying things that don't make sense
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
  • Difficulty with coordination or balance (such as being unable to catch a ball or other easy tasks)
  • Feeling anxious or irritable for no apparent reason

If you suspect a concussion, call your doctor for further instructions.

Diagnosis

The doctor will take a complete medical history, including details of the injury, and perform a physical exam. In addition, a thorough evaluation by a pediatric neurologist and neurosurgeon will be needed to determine the best plan of treatment for your child. Testing will most likely include one or more of the following:

Once the extent of your child's injury is determined, your doctor will discuss treatment options and work closely with you and your family to determine the best course of action to take.

Treatment

The type of treatment your child requires will depend on the seriousness of the injury. In more serious cases, surgery may be necessary. If your child does need surgery, physical and occupational therapy will most likely be a part of the treatment plan as well. Sometimes a brain injury can take a long time for healing and recovery. For that reason, you and your child will have the support of your medical team, including neuro specialists, nurses, and physical and occupational therapists. Other members of the support team may include a psychotherapist, social worker, Child Life specialist, sibling support and a variety of support groups to help you and your child get back to as normal a pre-accident life as possible.

Preventing head injuries

It's impossible to prevent kids from ever being injured, but there are ways to help prevent head blows. Make sure that:

  • Your home is childproofed to prevent household accidents
  • Your kids always wear appropriate headgear and safety equipment when biking, in-line skating, skateboarding, snowboarding or skiing, and playing contact sports. Wearing an appropriately fitting bike helmet, for instance, reduces the risk of head injury by about 85 percent.
  • Kids always use a seatbelt or child safety seat
  • Your child takes it easy after a head injury, especially if there is a concussion
  • Your child doesn't go back to rough play or playing sports until the doctor gives approval. (If your child reinjures the brain while it's still healing, it will take even more time to completely heal.)

We're here to help.

If your child has been diagnosed, you probably have lots of questions. We can help. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 682-885-2500.