What is Brain Injury?

Learn more about brain injury in children and adolescents.

Types of brain injury

Brain injury that occurs before birth (congenital).
Congenital brain injury is a group of brain defects or disorders that develop in the womb and are present at birth.

Brain injury that occurs after a child is born (acquired).
Acquired brain injuries can be traumatic or non-traumatic. A traumatic brain injury occurs when there is impact to the head or body causing the brain inside the skull to be injured. Including the brain moving back and forth inside the skull and being bumped, bruised or twisted. The injury can be mild, moderate or severe.

Types of brain injury related to timing and causes of injury

Congenital brain injury

  • Inherited genetic defects
  • Spontaneous mutations within the embryo's genes
  • Damage to the fetus caused by the mother's exposure to:
    • Toxins
    • Infection
    • Trauma
    • Drug use

The cause of congenital brain injury is not always known.

Acquired traumatic brain injury

  • Assault
  • Bicycle crash
  • Car crash
  • Fall
  • Gunshot wound
  • Physical fight
  • Sports injury
  • Violently shaken by someone

Acquired non-traumatic brain injury

  • Brain infection (meningitis, encephalitis)
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Near drowning
  • Inhaling or swallowing chemicals (for example: paint, glue or gases)
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Stroke
  • Suffocation

When the brain is injured

Changes can occur in how a child or adolescent does everyday things, how they:



Understand language

Read and write

Behave or control self

Organize tasks


Begin activities

Solve problems

Pay attention

Eat, feed self

Interact with others

Make safe decisions

Brain injury in children and adolescents

Every brain and every brain injury is unique. Each individual’s recovery from a brain injury requires individual attention.

Many factors can influence outcomes (how quickly and how well a person recovers). The care of a child or adolescent with a mild, moderate, or severe brain injury can be complex and requires a comprehensive team of pediatric brain injury specialists.  The team of specialists can include neurosurgery, trauma surgery, physical medicine & rehabilitation, neurology and interdisciplinary professional staff specially trained to care for children and adolescents.

Immediately after a brain injury, symptoms can show up right away and get better over time or symptoms may be delayed and get worse over time. We specialize in brain injury at Hennepin Healthcare. Learn more about the Pediatric Brain Injury Program.

Return to the Traumatic Brain Injury Center page, the Traumatic Brain Injury Outpatient Program page, the Knapp Rehabilitation page or the Pediatric Brain Injury Program page.