traumaTrauma refers to severe and body-altering physical injury or wound that can have debilitating effects on physical or psychological health. It is classified by the affected body area: head injury, spinal cord injury, or chest trauma.  Such injuries result most commonly from motor vehicle accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, workplace and sport injuries, and physical assault.  However, they can also be caused by medical conditions such as cardiac arrest, stroke, and spinal cord injury.

Traumatic brain injuries range from mild to severe concussions and are distinguished by  symptoms like unconsciousness, loss of memory, confusion, difficulty learning and remembering new information, trouble speaking coherently, lack of body balance and coordination, problems with vision and hearing, seizures, and vomiting.  Some traumatic brain injuries may even lead to Alzheimer’s or dementia in later years.  Emergency medical care should be sought as soon as possible after the incident or injury.

Musculoskeletal trauma may result in fractures, dislocations, and soft tissue injuries that cause swelling, pain, decreased sensory perception and movement, and even deformities.  These are commonly treated with splinting, realignment by a medical professional, and surgery.  As well, a neurovascular assessment by a doctor is necessary in order to avoid damage to nerves and blood vessels.

Damage to the spinal cord is characterized as loss of feeling below the area of injury, increased muscle tone, loss of normal bowel and bladder control, pain, and even paralysis.  Immediate medical attention is warranted.  Treatments with corticosteroids, surgery, physical, occupational, and rehabilitation therapy are standard.

Regardless of its cause and classification, trauma will often lead to psychological disturbances like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Having suffered an overwhelming shock or trauma, people with PTSD are characterized as having feelings of fear, anger, and helplessness that persist for over 3 months after the accident.  Additional symptoms include sleep and concentration disturbances, irritability, agitation, panic, lack of sex drive, nightmares and flashbacks, numbing/avoidance of feelings, and chronic pain.  Identifying and treating PTSD is crucial, as it is often undiagnosed and can adversely affect many areas of a patient’s personal life, including relationships with others.  Due to the complex nature of this condition, patients are encouraged to participate in their recovery by connecting with a support system, participating in psychotherapy, exercising, and engaging in hobbies.

Patients within the chronic stage of trauma (at least 3 months after the initial injury) should see our article on chronic pain disorder.


 “Traumatic brain injury.”  Alzheimer’s Association.  Available from:

Margolies, L. (2010). Understanding the Effects of Trauma: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Psych Central. Available from:

“Chapter 10: Trauma and The Musculoskeletal System.” Elsevier Ltd. Available from:

Bhimji, S. “Spinal chord trauma.” MedlinePlus.  Available from:



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