What Actually Happens in a Brain Injury?
Dr. Rhonda Patrick is an American biochemist and academic researcher, well known for her podcasts and online following. One night, a friend of hers took her to a Mixed Martial Arts fight, otherwise known as MMA. The crowd did what an MMA crowd does – they drank beer, munched on popcorn, and went wild with every connecting blow. The harder the contact, the louder they cheered.
Dr. Patrick was not one with the crowd. Every punch, every elbow, knee, and kick—especially when directed at the head—made her wince so bad she eventually had to turn away.
This is because the focus of Rhonda’s study is on neuroscience. So while the crowd was being entertained by the brutal exchange of martial arts, she was watching a human brain get literally battered.
What causes a brain injury?
In short, a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is when an external force causes the brain to move within the skull.
We will paint you a quick picture of what this actually looks like.
Your brain is a delicate organ that’s floating in fluid. It’s cushioned by protective membranes called meninges, which are very thin layers between the cerebral cortex and your skull (for reference, the bone of your skull is about twice as thick as these layers).
If an impact has enough force—like a car crash, a gun shot, a steep fall, a powerful right hook—it can literally move the brain to where it pushes through the layers and against the skull.
Now, the brain is surprisingly fragile.
Imagine one of the softest red meats you’ve ever handled. The brain, at just 3 pounds, is so squishy that, if you physically hold it, your fingers will leave imprints within seconds.
The inside of the skull, on the other hand, is rough and uneven. When the brain contacts it, the tissue can be easily damaged and blood vessels can be torn.
That’s the damage that can be easily detected with head scans. Inside the brain are long nerve cells that link regions to one another. A heavy blow can disrupt that communication, essentially disconnecting circuits. These are much harder, sometimes impossible, to see with a test.
Of course, the effects can vary.
When brain tissue is moved, it can change the chemical makeup and physiological layout of your brain. This brings on issues with memory, attention, and concentration.
An impact can be severe enough that it causes a blood clot, otherwise known as a “hematoma”. There are different types of hematomas, depending on where the clot is, but they all increase pressure on brain tissue. This causes the person to lose consciousness. If the pressure continues to increase, it could affect the respiratory center.
Sometimes the pressure can be relieved, like if surgery is immediately performed. This can save a person’s life.
Other times, it may be ignored, as the effects may not be so obvious.
There was the heartbreaking (and sobering) story of actress Natasha Richardson, who sustained a head injury in a ski accident. She not only insisted she was fine, but was laughing and joking about the fall. She developed a severe headache that night, and had passed away two days later. The official cause was epidural hematoma, the collection of blood between the skull and dura, the outermost membrane layer.
In high-impact sports, such as MMA, the effects could be gradual and long-term. Veteran fighter Gary Goodridge told Inside MMA about living with CTE and his deteriorating mental health. He talked of his mental disabilities, which he called “crippling”, and expressed gratitude for his current medication, which he said has prevented his suicide.
So, while everyone was watching an entertaining fight, Dr. Patrick was seeing early versions of Goodridge.
In short, we’ve shown how the brain is a delicate organ, whose damage can have far-reaching consequences. We hope we’ve conveyed how critical it is to protect your brain, and to seek immediate help if you’ve sustained a heavy blow, even if you “feel okay”. Our office is happy to point you in the right direction, and discuss any legal ramifications that may come of it. Contact us at Philbrook Law if you think you have any questions about traumatic brain injury or legal ramifications concerning the issue.