Types of Head and Brain Injuries

by Steve Holder on June 25, 2008

Head injuries can be as minor as a bump or a cut, or as serious as a depressed skull fracture with traumatic brain injury. The terms describing such a wide variety of head injury types don’t always accurately convey the nature or seriousness of the injury. The following descriptions can help you with the terminology for various types of head and brain injuries so you can better understand and possibly further research the type of injury you or a loved one may have experienced.

Bump on the Head (”Goose Egg”)

A bump on the head (also called a “goose egg”) often describes a minor injury resulting in bleeding under the skin and a swollen, raised lump. If the injured person didn’t lose consciousness, the injury is usually not serious. The person should be observed closely for the next 48 hours, however, to detect any signs of a concussion associated with the event.

Open Head Injury

When someone has a badly bleeding cut on the scalp (a “scalp laceration”), we might say he “cut his head open.” It’s easy to assume that’s what an “open head injury” describes. But to medical professionals, an open head injury means at best a skull fracture, and at worst an object penetrating the brain.

Closed Head Injury

It can also be tempting to think that a closed head injury is the same thing as a bump on the head because the head isn’t “cut open.” In medical circles, however, a closed head injury describes an injury to the brain itself from impacting the interior of the skull or being damaged by violent movement when there is no visible exterior injury.


The brain normally floats serenely inside the skull surrounded by a protective layer of fluid. When the head moves or stops suddenly due to a blow or a fall, the brain can be violently jarred and impact the interior of the skull resulting in a disruption of brain chemistry and function. This is called a concussion, and may sometimes cause the injured person to pass out for at least a few seconds. Concussions can be mild or severe depending on the amount of resulting brain injury.

Brain Contusion, Hemorrhage, and Hematoma

The terms contusion, hemorrhage and hematoma all relate to internal bleeding.

A brain contusion (or “cerebral contusion”) is a bruise on the brain. Some brain contusions can be minor and will heal on their own without any specific treatment. A severe contusion can be life threatening, however. Blood leaking into the skull cavity exerts pressure on the brain and can cause additional brain damage.

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