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Injuries of the Nervous System

Discusses brain and spinal cord injuries.

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No diving?

Make sure you always heed the advice of signs that say "no diving." Diving in shallow water can lead to serious injuries to your nervous system.

Injuries of the Nervous System

Injuries to the central nervous system may damage tissues of the brain or spinal cord. If an injury is mild, a person may have a full recovery. If an injury is severe, it may cause permanent disability or even death. Brain and spinal cord injuries most commonly occur because of car crashes or sports accidents. The best way to deal with such injuries is to try to prevent them.

Brain Injuries

The mildest and most common type of brain injury is a concussion. This is a bruise on the surface of the brain. It may cause temporary problems such as headache, drowsiness, and confusion. Most concussions in young people occur when they are playing sports, especially contact sports like football. A concussion normally heals on its own in a few days.

A single concussion is unlikely to cause permanent damage. But repeated concussions may lead to lasting problems. People who have had two or more concussions may have life-long difficulties with memory, learning, speech, or balance.

Watch this short video about concussions.

A person with a serious brain injury usually suffers permanent brain damage. As a result, the person may have trouble talking or controlling body movements. Symptoms depend on what part of the brain was injured. Serious brain injuries can also cause personality changes and problems with mental abilities such as memory. Medicines, counseling, and other treatments may help people with serious brain injuries recover from, or at least learn to cope with, their disabilities.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries make it difficult for messages to travel between the brain and body. They may cause a person to lose the ability to feel or move parts of the body. This is called paralysis. Whether paralysis occurs—and what parts of the body are affected if it does—depends on the location and seriousness of the injury. In addition to car crashes and sports injuries, diving accidents are a common cause of spinal cord injuries.

Some people recover from spinal cord injuries. But many people are paralyzed for life. Thanks to the work of Christopher Reeve (Figure below), more research is being done on spinal cord injuries now than ever before. For example, scientists are trying to discover ways to regrow damaged spinal cord neurons.

Former Superman star Christopher Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down in a fall from a horse. The injury crushed his spinal cord so his brain could no longer communicate with his body.


  • concussion: Bruise on the surface of the brain that can cause temporary problems such as headache, drowsiness, and confusion.
  • paralysis: Loss of ability to feel or move parts of the body.


  • Mild brain injuries, such as a concussion, normally heal on their own, while serious brain injuries can cause permanent physical and mental disabilities.
  • Spinal cord injuries can lead to paralysis, when a person loses the ability to feel or move parts of the body.


Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What kinds of problems can arise from damaged nerves?
  2. How do you think symptoms might vary between someone with a damaged peripheral nerve vs. a damaged central nerve? Explain your thinking fully.
  3. How can nerves become damaged? Can damaged nerves repair themselves?


  1. What are some possible consequences of a serious brain injury?
  2. Explain what causes paralysis.

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