Can You Fully Recover From a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Friday, August 25, 2023

Can You Fully Recover From a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

Each year in the United States, approximately 282,000 people are hospitalized due to a traumatic brain injury, with 13.5 million people living with a long-term disability.

The road to recovery following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be utterly discouraging. You may think that there is no hope of ever making a meaningful recovery.

No one should have to bear the financial burden that comes with a TBI. If you or a loved one have experienced a TBI, you need to speak with a Chicago brain injury lawyer to discuss what legal remedies may be available.

Overview of a Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury is a forceful blow or strike to the head, often from an accident like a slip and fall or a car accident. This force can cause damage to the brain. Traumatic brain injury is a blanket term that can encompass any number of brain injuries.

A TBI can be one of two categories: penetrating (open) or non-penetrating (closed). A penetrating TBI involves an object piercing the skull. This would happen if a bullet or shrapnel penetrates the brain tissue.

Conversely, a non-penetrating TBI would involve an object making contact with the head, but not breaking through the skull. Non-penetrating TBIs are common in falls, sports injuries, and motor vehicle accidents.

A non-penetrating injury can be just as serious as a penetrating injury. In a car accident, a person’s head may slam against the dashboard, causing the brain to move rapidly back and forth within the skull. In this situation, while no object has pierced the brain, your head has still sustained a violent force.

Whether you experience a penetrating or non-penetrating brain injury, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Classification of Traumatic Brain Injuries

The damage to the brain can be due to primary or secondary injuries. The initial impact to the brain is the primary injury. Upon impact, your brain vessels may tear, your brain tissue may bruise, or your brain signals may be temporarily interrupted.

Brain injuries may be either focal (localized to one area of the brain), or diffuse (affecting more than one area of the brain).

Primary Injuries


A contusion is a bruising of the brain tissue. The bruising can occur when small blood vessels get crushed, causing bleeding and swelling. A contusion is considered a focal injury.

Symptoms may present as localized numbness or tingling, challenges speaking, memory problems, and trouble coordinating movements.

Diffuse axonal injury

A diffuse axonal injury is a shearing of the brain’s nerve fibers, also known as axons. It is caused by a shaking or abrupt rotation of the head. As its name suggests, this type of injury can affect multiple areas of the brain.

Symptoms in less severe cases may include confusion, headache, and dizziness. People who experience a diffuse axonal injury will often lapse into a coma.


A concussion is a low velocity injury that may cause an instant loss of awareness or alertness anywhere from minutes to hours following an accident. A concussion is classified as a diffuse injury.

A concussion is often caused by a jolt to the head, which disrupts chemical signals in the brain. While there is a change in neurological function, cognitive impairment will likely not show up on any medical imaging.

In some concussions, a person may lose consciousness. Common symptoms include headache, memory loss, confusion, nausea, and vomiting.

Secondary Injuries

Cerebral Hypoxia

Cerebral hypoxia is a lack of oxygen in the brain. Brain swelling or severe blood loss can cause cerebral hypoxia.

Symptoms may include memory loss, difficulty moving body parts, inattention, and poor judgment. In more serious cases, patients may lapse into a coma, experience seizures, or suffer brain death.

Cerebral edema

Cerebral edema is a swelling of the brain caused by excessive fluid in the brain tissue. Cerebral edema is a known complication of an ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke is when a blood clot forms within the vessels that supply blood to the brain. Brain cells begin to die within a matter of minutes.

Symptoms of cerebral edema may include headache, lethargy, altered mental status, confusion, and vomiting.

Intracranial hematoma

Usually caused by a blood vessel that ruptures in the brain, an intracranial hematoma is a condition in which blood pools within the brain or in the space between the brain and the skull (cranial cavity).

Symptoms may include a persistent headache that worsens, dizziness, confusion, slurred speech, and paralysis on the opposite side of the body from the head injury (contralateral hemiplegia).

Long-Term Effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries

While some brain injuries are mild and symptoms may improve over time, other injuries are more severe and can cause permanent impairment.

Long-term effects of TBIs may involve:

Cognitive deficits

  • Confusion
  • Shortened attention span
  • Memory problems and amnesia
  • Problem-solving deficits
  • Inability to understand abstract concepts
  • Loss of sense of time and space
  • Decreased awareness of self and others
  • Inability to process multiple commands

Motor deficits

  • Paralysis or weakness
  • Spasticity: tightening and shortening of the muscles
  • Poor balance
  • Tremors
  • Swallowing problems
  • Poor coordination
  • Decreased endurance

Communication and language deficits

  • Aphasia: difficulty speaking, understanding speech, or choosing the right words to say
  • Alexia: difficulty reading and agraphia: difficulty writing
  • Slow, hesitant speech, and decreased vocabulary
  • Difficulty forming sentences that make sense
  • Problems identifying objects and their function

Recovery Period

The nature and severity of a traumatic brain injury will have a large impact on your recovery. While a physician may make a prognosis within two weeks following surgery for a TBI, the recovery period normally takes much longer.

One study that included researchers from Harvard Medical School, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and the University of California, San Francisco, found that about 50% of severe TBI sufferers and 75% of moderate TBI sufferers regained the ability to function independently at home within a 12-month time frame.

While many patients were able to regain functional abilities, there are many TBI victims who become permanently disabled. While 50% of severe TBI survivors may make a significant recovery, 50% of TBI survivors continue to decline within five years of their injury.

Of TBI survivors still alive five years after their accident, 57% are moderately or severely disabled, and 33% must rely on others for help with everyday activities.

Contact a Chicago Brain Injury Lawyer

If you or a family member has suffered a TBI, you need help from the legal team at Malman Law. We will review your case and advise you on what legal action may be possible. Contact us today to schedule your no-obligation, free consultation.

Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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