Brain Injury: Common Tests and Procedures

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
Brain Injury: Common Tests and Procedures

A brain injury usually happens out of nowhere, in an instant. You or your family have to learn a great deal fast. Here is information on common tests and procedures that may be needed for someone who has sustained a TBI.

Blood Flow/Doppler

An ultrasound test used to detect clots (deep venous thrombosis) in blood vessels of the legs. Safe and painless.

Bone scan

A test to find heterotopic ossification (excess bone growth); involves injection of medicine followed by images obtained by a special camera. Radiation exposure is the same as a spinal x-ray.

CT scan

A special computerized x-ray that provides images of the brain and is sometimes used to look for suspected hydrocephalus.

EEG (electroencephalogram)

Records the electrical activity of the brain. It is safe and painless, but does require the use of a medical adhesive that may cause discomfort when removed from the hair.

EMG/NCV (electromyogram and nerve conduction studies)

Records the electrical activity of muscles and nerves. It is used to evaluate peripheral nerve function and signals, can diagnose nerve injuries, and predict nerve recovery.

Evoked potential

Assesses the ability of nerves to send information from the body to the brain and is used to measure visual, hearing and sensory function, most often in minimally responsive patients unable to have a regular physical exam.

Gastric tube insertion

Provides nutrition and fluids through a tube, either surgically inserted in the stomach or inserted into the nose and throat and then down into the stomach.

MRI scan

Provides detailed images of the brain using magnetic energy rather than radiation which is used in regular x-rays.

Nerve block/botulinum toxin injections

Used to treat spasticity by blocking nerve-to-muscle pathway and allowing the muscle to relax. Injections can be mildly uncomfortable.

Shunt (ventriculoperitoneal)

A surgical procedure that places a drain from ventricles of brain into abdomen to remove excess fluid in hydrocephalus. Patients are watched closely for signs of infection.

Video swallow assessment

X-ray measures swallowing ability. A physician and speech pathologist monitor swallowing of different substances to ensure that food is not aspirated (goes into the lungs rather than the stomach).


Internal images to view fractures in bones and look at lungs for possible pneumonia. Painless, but involves a small amount of radiation.

Intrathecal baclofen trial

Surgical procedure (done by a neurosurgeon and therapist) delivers medication into the spaces around the spinal cord; sometimes used to treat spasticity.

This content is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the advice of a physician or other health care professional. Reliance on this site's content is solely at your own risk. Shirley Ryan AbilityLab disclaims any liability for injury or damages resulting from the use of any site content.

Posted on BrainLine December 12, 2016. Reviewed July 26, 2018.

Copyright 2017 Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (formerly Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago). Reprinted with permission.

Comments (16)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

How come SPECT or PET isn't on this list? American College of Radiology guidelines recommend the use of both for TBI when MRI & CT come out negative and that's BEFORE all the others you listed.....

Exactly. Seems they are not interested in seeing if your brain is working

I feel for all of you.Hit my head at work now have post concussion syndrome and cant sleep cant walk straight cant concentrate and exactly like yall said they doctors treat me like im chasing dope and all i want is to be normal again before i lose my job.NIGHTMARE

I hear ya man. It is maddening and I just want to be normal and not have all these symptoms and to just feel half way good again. Crying spell right now for no reason. Dizziness all day. feel "not right" .....list goes on.

Same thing for me too. Personal injury and the MD states they only treat the symptoms and denied me any further testing except MRI.

You need to look up Brain State Technologies. I found a local provider last April. My injury was almost 20 years old with significant visual processing issues that led to debilitating dizziness/vestibular problems that stumped the neurologist, ENT and vision specialist. The improvement I have with Brain State's amazing technology is life changing. I went from being able to barely walk a block with a cane to now, 10 months later, hiking 3+ miles at a normal pace and feeling better than I have in those 20 years.

Did migraine headaches play a part in your brain injury?

Ty for your experience strength and hope. So awesome to hear that I am not alone, however mine was because of abusive ex who bashed my head against floor or choking me till id pass out and head was always first to hit. Ughhhh anyhow ty again xo

Somewhere around the 13th of September, 2013 a neighbor hit me on top of my head with a ballpeen/single jack. I know this because my ex girlfriend was there and told me, she also told me that I became very mean. She said the ambulance service picked me up from in front of my house and took me to the hospital, where the doctor put IV and I was put out in the hallway that goes around the emergency room. They did not clean the blood off of me and they told her that I probably wouldn't make it. She said I came to about 5 hours later and I pulled my IV and left the emergency room and I showed up at my house a few days later and she had no idea that anything was wrong with me. She left me alone because I was so angry at everything. The lady I live with right now found me in a dead motorhome in the middle of a major hwy that she traveled to go to work and back. She didn't know there was anything wrong with me either. That was in January 2016, I had no clue what had happened to me and I didn't know anything was wrong with me either. I filed for disability from ssdi but it was another 4 and a half years later, and I still haven't figured out what happened. It seems like I went to sleep in September 2013 and I woke up about a year ago and I got my disability from my hearing with the ALJ because I did everything I was told to do and I hired Citizens Disability who helped me. I live with headaches and I am legally blind in one eye and I have had lasor surgery in the other. I know exactly who did it. But because of time I was not able to make sense of anything, I can not do anything to legally to him. Do you know of any way of sueing him after the statutory time limit. I had a house a good job I worked driving a gasoline tanker for 20 years and I have a payment book and it is great until September 2013. Thank you for your time. Carey

Why can't I locate information about Quantitative eeg testing?

After suffering from a traumatic brain injury every day of my life is blank. I have had a few dizzy spells and have passed out just like the brain is lacking oxygen. Doctors just keep throwing drugs at me and not helping me in any way. I wish I could get help with this as no one understands.

Look for a neurosurgeon. I too went through the medication crap. Join the TBI chat groups there are so many people that can help with info. Give yourself a break. = )

Suffered a tbi and have been telling the doctors that my eyes and ears are not registering to my brain. The annoying thing is that the doctors in this country don't understand you but I have now found a hospital that maybe able to help me if it is not too late. Why do you have to do everything yourself and not the doctors helping you. I am not enjoying my life now thanks to the doctors for not listening they should be struck off if they can't do there jobs properly.

I put on this site that I have suffered a tbi and I have since noticed when looking up again there was someone else who said they were in the same boat dated April. It would be a good idea if people could contact each other as I feel that some people don't understand what we really suffer.

I am in the same boat

Suffered a tbi and now can't sleep. Having been to hospital and stating that my eyes and ears are not registering to my brain I am now after two years being seen at moore fields eye hospital where I took myself as the doctors didn't believe what I was saying. I was brought back to life by paramedics after some time which has also affected my memory of my past life and now having problems with anything new.