Turn Text Only Off

Page Utilities


What Exactly Does the "Mild" in Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Mean?

Comments [31]


What Exactly Does the “Mild” in Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Mean?

Anyone who has ever experienced, even briefly, the symptoms of a mild concussion — headache, fatigue, fuzziness, confusion, dizziness, forgetfulness — knows that “mild” brain injury is a misnomer. But that said, most people don’t suffer any long-term problems.

A TBI can occur in a fall, a car crash, when the skull is struck by a heavy object, or a collision with an opponent on the playing field. Because the brain is protected in a shock-absorbing liquid and surrounded by the skull, in most cases, there are no long-lasting symptoms. The skull and cerebrospinal fluid are often enough to protect the brain from serious damage.

Although there are no hard statistics on what percentage of mild TBIs heal quickly and with no lasting symptoms, the medical consensus is that any symptoms from most mild TBIs usually get better in a month or so. If symptoms persist after six months, they often disappear altogether or are greatly improved within a year after the injury. And, most studies have shown that a single mild TBI presents no short- or long-term cognitive or behavioral risk.

Diagnosing a mild TBI or concussion — and tying symptoms to a mild TBI and ONLY to the mild TBI — can be tricky because sometimes symptoms may actually be due to another injury sustained at the same time as the concussion. For example, someone who sustains a mild TBI in a car crash may continue, months later, to complain of headaches. It might take a medical specialist to figure out that the headaches result from an injury to the neck and not to the brain, so they can then be treated appropriately.

The bottom line is that no jolt to the head should be considered acceptable. Our one brain deserves to be taken care of. That does not mean every hit to the head merits a panicked trip to the emergency room or that it will result in permanent damage. It just means that people should be aware of the fragility of their brain and seek medical attention if symptoms emerge after a hit or fall.

We’ve still got a lot to learn about the brain and what happens at a cellular level after a concussion. But for now, the good news is that most people who sustain or are diagnosed with a “mild” TBI recover quickly and fully. Some lucky people never experience any symptoms at all.


  • World Health Organization Task Force, 2004
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Concussion Clinic, Burwood Hospital


Comments [31]

each of the comments contains a question not asked, namely what is a "mild" brain injury? With somewhere near 14 open / closed cranial assaults I have over the past 6 of my 69 years had one plain easily understood no medical lega insurerese bafflegab answer to that question. This makes me think do any of the experts in the field have a clue as to what it is like living with an ABI be it a severe (I have most of the front temporal cut out after a truck rollover) or as the same experts claim them all mild ones? wanna bet they don't love to hear from just one of them.

Sep 13th, 2016 11:34am

I suffered right frontal lobe injury since a cough syncope fall onto my head 10/2013.  The admitting hospital completely missed the concussion symptoms. I was cleared back to work duty ( ER Nurse) and I was making critical mistakes and error in judgment and advised to not work patient care.  I still am not functioning as a nurse and I continue to suffer with headaches, anxiety , depression, and other problems I will not discuss here.  I think the TBI algorithm  they use is a joke. They tell me I have a " mild Traumatic Brain Injury or concussion". Well,  live inside this head for a day and you will not think the event was mild at all.  I did not ask for this outcome and I cannot predict my future. But I am tired of folks assuming I should be back to full duty or call my work "light duty". I give it 100% every day and some days are just horrible and indescribable..  As far as I am concerned I suffered a severe TBI because I am living it..The VA says the are accepting TBI brains for research post mortem.

May 11th, 2016 1:23pm

It has been over three years since my Mild TBI and I'm NOT getting better, I'm getting worse. 

Apr 30th, 2016 2:28pm

Hello everyone out there! It has been 3 years since my mTBI and I still struggle with the effects: lack of concentration, slow cognition, poor memory, trouble reading, anxiety, etc. The health system has not been effective to either acknowledge my condition or provide viable treatments to cope. Exercise, healthy diet, yoga, meditation, stress reduction, brain exercises; I have tried all the natural methods. I am not sure I will ever be the same so I get frustrated not being able to perform the way I used to.   If anyone knows and/or would like help organizing a support group in the east coast, please reach out.    

Feb 24th, 2016 1:50pm

Please let us know the name of the psycologist that did the QEEG testing in WA? Thank you so much!

Dec 21st, 2015 7:37pm

To the Lady who wrote" car accident May 9 2015. A 94 yr. Old man ran a red light'  I hope you read this.

Sounds similar to my accident but I didn't loose consciousness. I was rear ended by a lady who wasn't paying attention didn't put on her breaks and was going 40 to 45 miles an hour.  I was stopped at a red light, I didn't know what hit me.  I so feel for you.  I am sick of being treated like there is nothing wrong with me because the MRI came back normal and the fact that the police report doesn't have a speed of the car and the damage to my car was minimal. But the damage to my body was not.  I had a bruise on my left calf from my seat, my eyes were bloodshot and my own mother didn't recognize my vocie when I called her after the accident.   I found a Psychologist that does testing called the 'QEEG' it scans your brain and then a Neurologist goes over the data.  Mine came back with a TBI in the medium range, damage all the way to my white matter.  In the state of Washington this holds up in court.  See if you can get one of those scans.  Good Luck and blessings to you.

Dec 7th, 2015 5:16pm

Are there any studies or information out there on people who had existing conditions and then have a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury?  I have suffered from Fibromyalgia and Chronic fatigue off and on for years and since the accident most symptoms have come back. My Neurologist told me the reason it is taking so long to heal is because of my preexisting conditions. Tests show I have damage all the way to my white matter and my vision is blurry.

Dec 7th, 2015 5:07pm

I also disagree with the assumption that because you had a mild TBI the pieces will fall into place again in just a short amount of time. I don't believe all injuries are the same regardless of what category you fall under. Impact, location, age, motion, position all play a role. Creating a perception that it will all eventually goes away creates a perception by the medical community that there is no TBI to treat because it doesn't linger on past a couple of years.    

Nov 13th, 2015 3:58pm

I was in a terrible car accident May 9 2015. A 94 yr. Old man ran a red light and blew my car off the road. I never saw him coming and lost consciousness. I remember nothing from the accident. I too was diagnosed with TBI as well as a spinal cord injury. Prior to the accident I worked as a young vibrant paralegal at a very fast paced exciting company. It was anybody's dream job. I was a single mom with 2 young kid's & I was living & loving life. Now - I'm lucky if I can remember my own address on any given day. I have severe tremers. I scored significantly below normal on the neuropsych tests. I constantly fall in public but per the ENT I have very healthy ears and no indication of vertigo. No sign of temporal fracture or skull fracture, MRI'S are all normal, nothing abnormal on any of my xray or imagining. I suffer from horrible debilitating headaches. During the worst headaches I have acutely lost my vision . Once in august 2015 for 2 days and again in September 2015 for 2 days. Was hen the headache resolved my vision returned. My neuro ophthalmologist wrote me an RX for glasses even though a week prior he himself tested my vision and advised that it was 20/20. And 2 weeks later when my vision returned and he retested it was again 20/20. I also suffer from facial paralysis on the right side. And tingling 24/7 in my hands feet and directly down the center of my face. I have social anxiety, constant vomiting & nausea, insomnia but constant exhaustion. I am a nightmare to be around. I've list my job. My doctors are telling me that my symptoms are "psychosomatic " but even with my TBI I'm still an intelligent enough person to know that they are real. But like everyone else I'm fighting the insurance system& fighting the doctors. I can't find anybody that seems to know how to treat me or understands what I'm going through. I feel totally lost. My psychologist recommended a book called "I'll carry the fork" by kara Swanson. It's no longer in production & very difficult to find. You can find it on Amazon & some libraries have at least 1 copy. This author gets it. I think you guys will agree!

Oct 15th, 2015 10:48pm

I was hit by an SUV while crossing a street several years ago.  The healthcare system is fragmented when it comes to treating mTBI - my husband and I were handed some info on "possible cognitive issues" when I was discharged 10 days later from the hospital.  That was it.  Some physicians don't treat it at all (my internist told me to "rest over the summer") while others tell you that even though your brain bled for two days in ICU, there "wasn't that much damage" according to the CT and MRI scans. 

Only one insurance in my area, BSCS, covered any kind of cognitive therapy and only two institutions provided that therapy.  Neuropsychologists make money off administering the exams, not providing the treatment, so I couldn't find a private neuropsych in my area to go see, plus I had to change insurance.  I live in one of the largest cities in the U.S., yet none of the major hospitals have a support group for mTBI patients.  I continue to have issues with cognitive fatigue, confusion, focusing, short term memory, multi-tasking, organization, eye tracking, depth perception, etc.  I work everyday on my issues and consider them "challenges" not "obstacles."  I will move this mountain of chaos called the healthcare system, one way or another!

We need to organize somehow in order to be taken seriously and have our voices heard.  Anyone who is interested in a grassroots campaign, leave a message on this board and let's see what we can do.  It only takes "one voice."

Aug 9th, 2015 2:31pm

Mild traumatic brain injury from a car accident in 2013 - It's been a long and exhausting road since... My ex boyfriend of almost six years had left me a month after the accident had occurred. Shortly after, my best friend had moved away due to a new work opportunity that she had been given, across the country. Feeling alone and surely depressed, I am so greatful that I had been introduced to a new friend who was willing to sustain my irritability and constant mood swings. He is determined to help me get through the past and look towards a brighter future. Although things may never be the same after the accident, it is important to acknowledge the minor difficulties one might be experiencing, and work towards healing or overcoming those issues. As an example, I had gained well over twenty pounds from lack of exercise and terrible drinking habits that had followed after my accident. It became rather habitual to indulge my pain in alcohol and inevitably lead me to dive head first into an ocean of sorrow. When I had learned that something so simple as exercising would increase dopamine levels in my brain, I started getting "off" on working out. My eating habits had gotten increasingly better, and I had turned my difficulties i.e (forgetfulness, anger, frustration) into a challenge, rather than accepting them as a disability. I've learned to monitor my behavior, take pride in what I do, create strict schedules/routines, relax and enjoy life by indulging in the arts and meditation and so on and so forth. Life is worth living with or without any brain injury. When people react to my behavior or anxiety (due to the TBI) I am honest and straightforward in telling them my past, and it makes me feel good that I am also giving awareness to those who are unfamiliar with people who continually strive against their own TBI. To this day I still have set backs, and once in a blue moon I will find myself in a hopeless situation where no one can truly understand my pain, but I will continue to live my life as best as I can & I will fight every day to overcome obstacles and challenges that create barriers in my life. I will make efforts to see my loved ones because they are the ones who have been there for me (even when I couldn't care less if they were gone or not) I will open my heart and take my time to make things right. Everyone has a different story - DO NOT GIVE UP...you only live twice.

Jul 30th, 2015 8:59pm

I am a 62 yr old woman RN who had a car accident Jan 6 2015 and had a mild brain injury with loss if conscience and hypersomelence for 6 weeks went to cognitive therapy and physical therapy it is July 2015 and I remain disabled and on antidepressants and Amandine I am glad to know I am not going crazy by reading others accounts of experiences sleep wake cycles disturbance anti social behavior depression no energy hot flashes no heat tolerance skin breakdown irritability excessive tired and these are not me I was happy easy going felt alive now I have mild Parkinson disease syndromes and no ability to be out and about socially it is real and what I do is not commit to anything not knowing how I will feel that day and thankful I am alive

Jul 20th, 2015 2:24pm

I was diagnosed with TBI after a car accident in 2006.  It has been referred to as mild TBI since then.  I worked as a full time teacher until the accident and then could only work part time.  I pushed myself very hard because I loved my job and had to provide for my children as a single mom.  As I continued to work, my difficulties with information processing, memory, multi-tasking, executive functioning and extreme fatigue continued to worsen until, eventually, I was told by my doctors I needed to stop working.  As a teacher, I am not covered by SS and my private disability company denies benefits because they claim my speech difficulties, etc. are not a result of TBI even though I never experienced these difficulties before.  I know this is happening to so many of us.  I would love to have a group of us work together to get solid medical descriptions of TBI and better neuropsychological testing for TBI patients so that insurance companies (and everyone else) can take this physical condition more seriously.

Jun 9th, 2015 1:53pm

It is comforting in knowing that there are people out there who understand.  Although my TBI occured 5 years ago I struggle with some things EVERY day.  My dream is to be an orthopedic surgery and I just graduated with my BS in Science, however it was a complete struggle having to retake classes that while I was sitting in lecture I understood everything I would study until I had cluster migraines from making myself remember it but when it came time for the exam I just couldn't recall what I was doing.  It didn't help much that the disability counselor was inconsiderate and apparently felt that I was a liar and she put me down, telling me that I should basically give up.  It made me not want to try and sometimes I just didn't even get out of bed because I felt like a failure even before I would start the day.  I doubt that I will get accepted to med school even though I did graduate, all because I wouldn't be considered "book smart".  Before my injury I would get an A without even cracking a book, so this a huge set back making me feel worse.  To top all of this off and feeling like I have failed not only myself, but my family and friends, I have pushed many of them away because I get sooooo angry all the time.  I can't explain why I get angry, sometimes its over nothing, it embarrasses me and again makes me feel worse.  I don't talk about it anymore because everyone thinks I am making it up and I just want to disappear.  Thank you all for sharing, just knowing I am not alone makes me want to keep going and hoping someday things will change.

May 25th, 2015 12:45am

As I read all of the posts, my heart breaks all over again. My Husband, age 36, sustainted a TBI/concussion after a car accident on April 1, 2014. It was a care accident where his car was struck on the passsenger side near the headlight. He blaked out for about 30 seconds. He was able to get out of the car and call me. I took him to the ER and he had a "normal" CT, and the report stated that he had a concussion. He was discharged.  Almost right away, I noticed that he was short tempered, but I thought it was because of the headache he was experiencing- and still does to this day. A few weeks after the accident, he would go into blind rages, turning bright red and screaming. He was unable to sleep for a very long time. For at least 3 months he was maybe sleeping two hours a night. Almost two months after, he told me that he was not in love with me, and wasn't for 3 years. The hardest part was no affection, no touching, no smiling, no interaction with our two boys who were 5 and 2 at the time.  Every night I sat in our room crying and feeling very alone. I was mourning my marriage, and my husband.  Some of our immediate family was understanding (his parents). My Mother and Sister thought he was lying and "faking it."  He had several friends before this accident, and a couple still bother with him. The others don't call or come around. My Husband had a career that he loved and was very successful at. He lost his job after his family medical leave act ran out.  He hasn't worked in almost a year. He cannot go back to his field because he is terrified to drive. My Husband was, before the accident, so confident, my rock- always reassuring me things would be ok when they went wrong. Now my husband has major depression. He cries all  the time, he cannot get into a car without an anti anxiety medicine.  Three months after the accident he had a seizure and fell face first onto the ceramic tile, landing on the same side he hit in the accident. He spent three days in the hospital and had an abnormal EEG. Almost every family duty falls on me now. I have to drive everywhere, I work and am terrified about losing my job.I have to pay the bills, make sure the boys are happy, and this has increased my anxiety a lot.  Our boys were affected by this. They tell me that they miss Daddy before, when he was fun and did things with them. They know daddy's brain is hurt.  My oldest will burst into tears if he remembers the things that they used to do, but cannot now. We cannot go to the movies, be in a crowd, or go to family functions without my husband hiding out somewhere quiet and by himself.

The thing that makes me most angry is that people have told me to "have my husband strap on a pair and get  back to work." I've fought for my husband the whole time this has been going on. It has made me with drawl from the non-understanding- if you cant see it, its not real- family. He still is symptomatic today- almost a year later.

God bless all of you on your journey...

Mar 11th, 2015 4:49pm

Scrolling through the comments....and I don't feel so alone anymore. 8 months in...feeling hopeless.

Mar 9th, 2015 3:10am

I have a very similar TBI to the Brainiacs guy. Reading his comment made so much sense about my own TBI, which was diagnosed as a concussion after a car going 40-45 MPH without braking slammed into the passenger side of our legally turning car, totaling it. My head took pretty much the entire impact, which was on my right ear and temple. I had two CT scans at separate times, both of which came back normal. Have been diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome by my neurologist. Everybody lied and said I would be fine. I am anything but. :(

Feb 3rd, 2015 10:54am

Also, I must contribute this:  My CAT and MRI did not show trauma to my brain. But more recently, I had a Triple Tessla MRI, which did show focal areas of T2 hyperintensities in the white subcortical matter of my left frontal lobe.

So if you are having difficulty proving with objective medical tests, try the3T MRI.

Oct 15th, 2014 6:12pm

Dr. Arcineigas, speaking several years ago to the BIACconference, presented his research about the "MTBI" cases who did not get well, which was about9 percent, I think. He found they had something in common:  damage to a sensory gate related to sound. Symptoms to recognize this included that when there are alternating or competing sounds, the MTBI person may be unable to understand anyone. I am one of these people, and I have a smorgasbord of cog deficits. My point of impact was left side, and was a cous contracous, so my brainstem got a whacking back and forth also. But American Jurisprudence PROOF OF FACTs also includes mention that hitting near the eyesocket of the skull could be more serious than Mtbi."

I also have lack of impulse control, problems remembering what I hear (65% comprehension unless competing sounds, then 31%. Also abstract reasoning skills heavily damaged. Smell and taste impacted. Balance issues. Others.

I am also known as a "walk and talk," which means I was not in a coma or wheelchair, so I am going to be refused most services because, as you know, only people in wheelchairs are REALLY disabled. The rest of us are evidently liars.

I produce Brainiacs on www.denveropenmedia.org

Oct 15th, 2014 6:09pm

As an RN and TBI survivor, I think the time has passed for the designation of mild, moderate and severe in TBI. You are either brain injured or not. I never lost consciousness; but the residual effects of my brain injury were severe enough to cause me to have to retire as an RN and secure disability to survive. Yet I was discharged from the ER and never had any kind of rehabilitation. Six years post injury (auto wreck), I still have some short term memory issues, memory processing problems, word finding difficulties and tasking issues that remain. Trying to pigeon hole survivors may be somewhat helpful for the medical profession (though how, I remain unsure). But it is not helpful to survivors. One cannot always define even a mild TBI by the exact symptoms. In my case, I wouldn't have even qualified as mild as I never lost consciousness; yet by TOTAL symptomology, my injury was moderate to severe on final MRI due to the diffuse nature of the brain damage.

Oct 8th, 2014 11:41am

My husband was struck on the head by a 1,200 pound dock door just a little over a year ago...He suffers with constant headaches and migraines, balance, dizziness, cognitive issues, short term memory loss, and a plethora of other things....we were just told at our last neuro appt "this is as good as it's going to get". He will most likely never be able to drive or work again. So Yes there are ppl who are considered mild to moderate TBI who do not fully recover.

Oct 2nd, 2014 7:32pm

Mild only refers to doctors assessment of initial impact Not to the on going problems a person has. What's the point of writing an article claiming "most" people recover? What is more important and helpful is identifying why a Significant "minority" plus Millions of unreported people are NOT recovering. What could be done to assist them? What lessons can be learnt to improve recovery rates? etc

Oct 2nd, 2014 7:08pm

Six months post-concussion from a slip on black ice and subsequent loss of consciousness after hitting side of head.  Continue to be plagued with horrible headaches, double vision, cognition difficulties, and vestibular issues.  I have Meniere's Disease on top of this.  No one seemed to take me seriously.  I looked okay but still feel like I am different person.  I can't remember names, phone numbers, feel like I have ADHD, and am exhausted. Have difficult with balance, vertigo, nausea, lights... get confused whereever I go.  Even have word finding difficulties especially under any stress.  Been receiving vestibular treatment which is helping a little.  Have also received nerve blocks in back of my head which help with headaches for about 10 days.  I feel very frustrated and just not myself.  Hope this won't be forever!

Sep 4th, 2014 4:55pm

"Mild" in Mild Traumatic Brain Injury doesn't mean much. To me it would be like saying "Mildly"pregnant. i mean, you are either brain injured or you are not. I am and its no picnic.

Jun 9th, 2013 6:30pm

Twenty years ago I was diagnosed as having a \'mild concussion\' (I had lost conciousness for a few moments also) when I was hit head-on (on) the drivers side. From the time of that concussion and continuing to this day I have had problems with anomic aphasia (speech and language), other issues with S&L, concentration, long and short term memory loss, PTSD (and something else with initials), am treated with daily medication to try to control the Complicated (or Complex) Migraines where I have stroke-like symptoms, my right side never regained the full strength of my arm or leg, I am Bi-polar but unable to take the medications because they work opposite on me, and more. A concussion is not \'mild\' when one immediately show signs of things that are different and the issues never go away, even if they improve to a certain point over the years. I think ALL who work in the medical field who would encounter people with TBI\'s and concussions need to be better informed and/or trained in relation to this health issue. AND TOO, when a doctor sees someone with a concussion, they should refer person go to a doctor who is THOROUGHLY TRAINED AND SPECIALIZES in TBI\'s, etc. (and)who works ALL THE TIME WITH helping those who have issues with brain injury whether through a Rehabilitation Hospital -or- their own office.

Mar 21st, 2013 4:14pm

Long-term, even life long- effects from apparently "mild" TBI are very common. If you have any concussive symptoms like feeling dazed, you SHOULD go to the emergency room to document the injury. Otherwise, as deficiencies emerge, you will have no way to tie your symptoms to the event and, likely, no insurance coverage. In the immediate aftermath of a concussion (or sub-concussion), you and the lay people around you are in no position to know whether serious effects are likely. If the doctors try to brush you off, ask them to record your description of how you feel. I was too afraid of the charge of malingering to do this, so when the doctor said "You look fine to me," I just left, though I could not remember her name or my boss's name, the world was sort of swirling around me, I was having trouble finding words, and was generally in a daze. Big mistake!

Mar 11th, 2013 8:28pm

I wish people where i work could understand what i go through. i would love to just shut down and recoop usually what i get is I need u to just do this. they dont understand that i dont function and perform at the same level i use to. But they expect me to. its been an up hill battle 2 years post car accident.

Oct 12th, 2012 5:32pm

I'm 8 and a half years post "mild" brain injury and I still face my deficits every day. I lost a lot of: skills, personality, balance, cognition, and the list goes on. I gained: major clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD, 45 pounds from medication, inability to drive for more than a few hours, fatigue, low self-esteem, stumbling with words... But, my family and REAL friends have a newly gained respect for me as I bravely go thru each day trying to work thru the shortcomings. Some days, I just have to shut down and disappear to re-coop.

Oct 4th, 2012 10:57am

I whole-heartedly (and allegedly with less than "whole" of my brain power am in full agreement with both of the post/comments I see here from May 17 & 18, 2012. Especially the statement about the diagnosis of TBI in relation to this being a Civil Rights issue. I have come about the diagnosis in a "round-about way." Twenty-six years ago I was a passenger in a car accident, received spinal cord injury and "closed-head injury." Since I had graduated nursing school 6 months previous to the accident, I attempted to resume my career, but after passing the RN licensure boards, I keep losing job after job due to "slower than average" performance, "not as efficient as other nurses," being reprimanded for always writing things down...I am a compassionate, empathetic very good person/nurse who would do someone/hospital/health care facility a whole lot of GOOD if allowed the opportunity.

Jun 28th, 2012 3:51pm

I disagree that the symptoms always clear up after a short time. I have been diagnosed with TBI and my symptoms have continued long after the auto accident I was in six years ago. The symptoms never really go away and sometimes subside for awhile but always return. Since I never had any of these symptoms before the accident I attribute them to the damage incurred to my brain at the time of the accident. You are misleading people who have TBI with your analysis.

May 18th, 2012 11:04am

For Mild TBI survivors - there is nothing mild about the long term effects of a concussion, including dealing with doctors, other providers and government officials that just do not understand. The thinking and approach to TBI -- be it mTBI, TBI or CTE has to change. TBI survivors need to work together to bring about change to ensure that all persons that have suffered a TBI are treated with fairness, consideration and respect! This is a human and civil rights issue! Period!

May 17th, 2012 1:59am

BrainLine Footer


BrainLineMilitary.org is supported in part by generous grants
from the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Infinite Hero Foundation.

Bob Woodruff Foundation  Infinite Hero Foundation

© 2015 WETA All Rights Reserved

Javascript is disabled. Please be aware that some parts of the site may not function as expected!