Symptoms of Head and Neck Injury

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
January 10, 2024
Symptoms of Head and Neck Injury

Head and neck injuries aren’t always obvious. Learn how to spot the symptoms so you can get treated quickly to prevent long-term problems.

One million Americans are treated in hospitals for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) each year. Millions more have whiplash or another neck injury.

Injuries to the head and neck areas are especially problematic because they surround and protect your brain and spinal cord. Serious damage to those areas can cause long-term disability or even death — especially if they’re not treated quickly.

Knowing the symptoms of a head and neck injury and getting medical help right away can help minimize long-term damage if you do have one of these injuries.


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Causes of head injuries

A head injury is a broad term that encompasses any damage to your scalp, skull, brain, or the tissues or blood vessels inside your brain. It can include:

  • A bump or bruise on the surface of your head
  • A concussion
  • A shallow or deep cut to your head
  • Bleeding or a blood clot inside your brain
  • Fractured skull

The most common causes of head injuries are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents, either from riding in or on a car, motorcycle, or bicycle or being struck by one
  • Falls
  • Military combat injuries
  • Sports, such as football, hockey, boxing, lacrosse, and soccer
  • Violence, including assault, child abuse, domestic violence, and gunshots

Causes of neck injuries

Your neck surrounds several important structures that can be injured, such as the:

  • Brachial plexus, nerves that carry feeling from your spinal cord to your arms and hands
  • Carotid artery, the major vessel that supplies blood to your brain
  • Discs that give structure to your spine and help it move
  • Esophagus, the tube that carries food to your stomach
  • Windpipe (trachea), the tube that carries air in and out of your lungs

Injuries to your neck happen in three main ways:

  • Blunt trauma from a motor vehicle accident or sports injury
  • Penetrating trauma, such as a stab wound
  • Strangulation

What are the symptoms of a head injury?

A minor head injury may cause a bump, bruise, or shallow cut on your scalp. Symptoms of a mild TBI include:

  • Balance problems
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Memory problems
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Sleeping more or less than usual

Signs of a more serious head injury that requires immediate medical assistance are:

  • Behavior changes
  • Blood or clear fluid draining from your nose or ears
  • Difficulty waking from sleep
  • Extreme confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Repeated nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache that won’t go away
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble remembering
  • Widened (dilated) pupils of your eyes

What are the symptoms of a neck injury?

Symptoms vary depending on the type and severity of the injury. Minor injuries may cause pain, stiffness, swelling, or bruising of your neck.

Signs of a more severe neck injury include:

  • Balance problems
  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop on its own
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of control over your bladder or bowels
  • Muscle weakness, numbness or tingling, or paralysis in your arms, legs, or body
  • Severe neck pain
  • Trouble swallowing

How to manage head and neck injuries

You may be able to manage mild head and neck injuries like a bump or bruise on your own. If you have symptoms of a more severe injury, go to an emergency room, or call 911 for help right away. A neurological exam and imaging tests can show the extent of your injury and point your medical team to the right treatment.

What you can do

Protecting your head and neck during sports and other activities can reduce your risk of getting injured:

  • Wear a helmet whenever you play contact sports like football, baseball, softball, or ice hockey.
  • Put on a helmet to ride a motorcycle, bicycle, skateboard, or rollerblades, and for skiing or snowboarding.
  • Wear a seatbelt in your car.
  • Have children use a proper car set or booster seat.
  • Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Avoid texting or doing anything else that could distract you while driving.
  • Remove tripping hazards and improve lighting in your home to prevent falls.


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January 10, 2024

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell, RN