Trauma is a serious injury or
to the body. It is caused by a physical force, such as violence or an accident. The injury may be complicated by psychiatric, behavioral, and social factors. This can cause the injuries to be greater than just physical ones.
A medical team will assess your symptoms and medical history. A thorough physical exam will be done. It may include a chest exam, abdomen and pelvic exam, exam of extremities, and a neurologic exam. A psychological exam and/or suicide assessment may also be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Your vital signs may be tested. This can be done with:
Treatment depends on the cause, severity, or location of the injury.
Immobilize and Stabilize the Injury
Severe injuries need to be immobilized to reduce the risk of further damage. Once this is complete, an assessment for life-threatening injuries or complications will be done. Stabilizing an injury may require:
Some injuries may require surgery. This may be done immediately to sustain life or at a later time to repair damage. Examples of surgery may include:
Vascular surgery to control bleeding
Neurosurgery to repair the spinal cord, brain, and/or nerves
Creating a tracheostomy to restore or improve breathing—this may be temporary or permanent
Repairing or connecting broken bones with wires, screws, or plates
Reconstructive or plastic surgery
Debridement (removing dead tissue) and skin grafting for severe burns
to restore bladder and bowel function—this may be temporary or permanent
Some procedures, such as fracture repairs, may be delayed until swelling resolves.
Recovery and Rehabilitation
For some, recovery may be short (days or weeks). For others, it may take a long time (months or years). This may include the use of assisted devices like a cane or wheelchair. Severe injuries, especially to the head, neck, and spinal cord, may require short- or long-term (or permanent) rehabilitation.
In general, recovery and rehabilitation includes one or more of the following:
Physical therapy—to maintain or regain as much movement as possible
Occupational therapy—to assist in everyday tasks and self-care
Respiratory therapy—to assist with breathing
Speech and swallowing therapy
Psychological therapy—to improve mood and decrease depression
To help reduce your chance of trauma:
Always use seat belts.
Never drive or operate any equipment while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Certain medications can be dangerous as well.
Do not use a cell phone while driving.
Keep poisons, medication, and cleaning supplies locked up. Keep them away from small children.
Teach children to swim. Teach all family members about water safety.
Never swim alone, always swim with a buddy.
Develop a fire safety plan.
Make sure all alarm and fire equipment is up to date such as smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and fire extinguishers.
If you have firearms in the house, make sure they are kept unloaded. Keep them in a locked location.
Wear helmets while biking.
Wear the right safety equipment for all sports and recreation activities.
Wear appropriate protective gear when using power tools.
Help prevent falls in the home. Install night-lights, grab bars, and hand rails.
Avoid putting yourself at risk for an accident, violence, or other physical trauma.
Approach to the trauma patient. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries;-poisoning/approach-to-the-trauma-patient/approach-to-the-trauma-patient. Updated July 2015. Accessed December 28, 2015.
Majou R, Farmer A. ABC of psychological medicine: trauma. BMJ. 2002;325(7361):426-429.
Trauma fact sheet. National Institute of General Medical Sciences website. Available at: https://www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/pages/Factsheet_Trauma.aspx. Updated November 2012. Accessed December 28, 2015.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.