Much has been written about the consequences of high-speed-impact injuries on the brain. They are more dramatic and, sad to say, can often make for a better media story. An example that comes immediately to mind is the tragedy of Michael Schumacher, who is reportedly still in a vegetative state following a skiing accident in 2013 in which his head slammed into a rock.
However, thousands of people are affected by low-velocity impact injuries every year and these can be life-changing for both the victim and his or her family despite not receiving the same media coverage.
Seemingly minor accidents can sometimes even be fatal. In 2009, actress Natasha Richardson, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and wife of Liam Neeson, fell on the learner’s slope of a Canadian ski field and banged her head. She got up, and reports said she was laughing and joking with instructors and other skiers. An ambulance, which had been summoned, was turned away.
But within an hour the actress had become disoriented and complained of headaches. She was pronounced brain dead soon after. The cause of death was epidural haematoma. Although the medical examiner who performed the autopsy ruled her death an accident, doctors said she might have survived had she received immediate treatment. However, nearly four hours elapsed between her lethal fall and her admission to a hospital.
Little accidents can lead to big consequences
Inside your head, your brain is like a jelly, connected to your vascular and nervous systems at the stem and floating in viscous cerebrospinal fluid in your cranial cavity. When you trot while horse-riding, get rear-shunted by another vehicle, or trip and bang your head at walking or jogging speed, your brain deforms slightly as it bumps into your skull, then bounces back into place without injury. In severe hits, the jelly moves around more severely:, crashing, twisting, and rebounding against the inside of the skull.
And – as in the case of Natasha Richardson – the hit does not have to be traumatic to cause life-threatening damage. Neurosurgeons now know that even mild concussions can cause irreversible brain damage. Axons, the fibres that carry messages from your brain to different parts of your body, can be stretched hard only once, or lightly many times, before rupturing. And when they do come apart, brown balls of protein—scars left from the brain’s attempt to heal itself—form in the pathways, shutting down communication from the brain to other parts of the body.
Sometimes even seemingly inconsequential changes can cause lifelong injury on the brain. For example, recently Gordon Banks – England’s goalkeeper in the 1966 World Cup final – stated that he believes heading heavier footballs may have led to several members of the team developing Alzheimer's disease in later life.
From the 1900s balls were made out of rubber and leather, which provided greater bounce, but caused pain when headed in play. It has only been since 1970 that the design of balls has been officially regulated for FIFA tournaments.
Causes of low-velocity impact
Low-velocity impact brain injuries can be caused by a variety of events including:
- falling from a horse,
- trips and slips
- falling from a ladder
- repeat collisions when playing sport
- rear-end shunts or other minor car accidents
So why do we only tend to hear about the impact of major brain injuries?. Part of it may come down to individuals simply not recognising or ignoring the fact that they may have suffered a slight concussion following an accident.
“I don’t want to create a fuss”
The great British quality of taking it on the chin and ‘soldiering on’ can work against those who should have sought medical treatment for a ‘bump on the head’, but did not want to ‘create a fuss’.
However, we all need to understand that even a minor blow to the head can cause concussion. Symptoms include:
- dizziness, forgetfulness, memory loss and confusion
- slowness in thinking and acting
- loss of balance
- ringing in the ears
- inability to concentrate
Usually a mild concussion will not result in any life-threatening or life-changing consequences. But in rare circumstances, brain bleeding or other serious conditions can develop; therefore, medical attention must be sought immediately if any of the above symptoms appear following a minor blow to the head.
The problem is that bleeding or swelling in the brain can show no symptoms at first; therefore, immediately after the blow to the head, the victim may seem fine, as in Natasha Richardson’s case.
However, inside the skull all hell is breaking loose.
Delayed bleeding is sometimes referred to as ‘talk and die’ syndrome. And if doctors cannot treat it in time, the victim is effectively a walking corpse, no matter how ‘fine’ they seem to be.
Low-velocity impact injuries can lead to time off work, unforeseen medical expenses, and pain and suffering. If the accident that caused your mild brain injury was not your fault, you can bring a claim for compensation as long as you can show that:
the person or company that caused your brain injury owed you a duty of care;
they breached that duty; and
as a consequence, you suffered damage
Even if a brain injury seems minor at first, serious consequences can develop quickly if medical attention is not sought. If you feel unwell following a blow to the head, however small, seek medical attention immediately.
Had Natasha Richardson done so, she may still be alive today.
At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim following a brain injury. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.