Search in�� ��for��
Career Center
New Hospital Update
Learn More About MCI
Bill Payment
Upcoming Events
Find a Physician
Press Releases
Maps and Directions
Visiting Hours
Medical Services
Specialty Programs and Services
Volunteer Services
Birthing Center Tours
Family Care of Eastern Jackson County
Jackson County Medical Group
Family & Friends
Virtual Body
Virtual Cheercards
Web Babies
Decision Tools
Self-Assessment Tools
Natural and Alternative Treatments Main Index
Health Sources
Cancer InDepth
Heart Care Center
HealthDay News
Wellness Centers
Aging and Health
Alternative Health
Sports and Fitness
Food and Nutrition
Men's Health
Mental Health
Kids' and Teens' Health
Healthy Pregnancy
Travel and Health
Women's Health
Genus MD
Genus MD
Physician Websites
Legal Disclaimers
Privacy Notice

Send This Page To A Friend
Print This Page




Trauma is a serious injury or shock 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.

Brain Trauma from Whiplash

Whiplash brain

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Causes    TOP

Some causes of trauma include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Near-drowning
  • Gunshots
  • Fires and burns
  • Stabbing
  • Other physical assault
  • Fire, flood, earthquake, lightening, or other natural disaster
  • Contact sports
  • Electrical shock
  • Animal attacks
  • Explosions
  • Plane crashes

Risk Factors    TOP

Trauma is more likely if you are aged 1-44 years. Other factors that may increase the chance of trauma include:

  • Not wearing a seatbelt in a vehicle
  • Drinking alcohol and driving a vehicle or boat
  • Cell phone use (especially texting), or other distractions while driving
  • Improper use or storage of firearms
  • Unsafe home conditions that can lead to falls, such as unsecured area rugs, wet floors, cords running across the middle of the room, or poorly lit halls and stairwells
  • Not wearing proper protective equipment while playing sports, or while working with or using dangerous equipment (like a chainsaw)
  • Improper use of dangerous machinery, such as powertools, chainsaws, lawn mowers, or snowblowers
  • Fighting with fists or weapons, especially after drinking alcohol
  • Improper car seat use that results in a child falling from an elevated surface, or the occupied car seat flipping or rolling
  • Not using smoke detectors or not changing dead batteries in a timely manner
  • Swimming alone or without previous lessons
  • Not watching your child while they are swimming
  • Not using lifejackets while swimming or boating
  • Improper fencing or locks around swimming pools
  • Approaching an animal unsafely or aggressively

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms depend on the type or extent of injuries. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain, with or without swelling
  • External (visible) or internal (not visible) bleeding
  • Breathing problems
  • Headache, nausea, vomiting, amnesia, or altered mental status
  • Visible deformity, which may occur with a fracture
  • Loss of feeling and/or muscle strength
  • Changes in bowel or bladder function, including inability to urinate or have a bowel movement
  • Loss of consiousness
  • Coma

In addition, the following psychological effects may occur in response to trauma:


Diagnosis    TOP

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:

Imaging tests can be used to evaluate the injured area. These may include:


Treatment    TOP

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:

  • Splinting or bracing
  • A breathing tube for a blocked airway
  • IV fluids
  • Mechanical ventilation to take over breathing
  • Nutritional support
  • Admission to the hospital for monitoring


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
  • Creating a urostomy or colostomy 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    TOP

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

Prevention    TOP

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.

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

National Safety Council


Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

Trauma Association of Canada


Approach to the trauma patient. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated July 2015. Accessed December 28, 2015.

Majou R, Farmer A. ABC of psychological medicine: trauma. BMJ. 2002;325(7361):426-429.

Major trauma—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906321/Major-trauma-emergency-management . Accessed September 27, 2016.

Spinal cord injury—acute management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114275/Spinal-cord-injury-acute-management . Updated August 22, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2016.

Spinal cord injury—chronic management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T566521 . Updated December 18, 2015. Accessed September 27, 2016.

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.

Last reviewed November 2018 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 12/28/2015

Health References
Health Conditions
Therapeutic Centers

Copyright � 1999-2007
ehc.com; All rights reserved.
Terms & Conditions of Use
Privacy Statement
Medical Center of Independence
17203 E. 23rd St.
Independence,� MO� 64057
Telephone: (816) 478-5000