Today we begin our 2015 series of helpful articles on Brain Injury.
Understanding the Basics of Brain Injury Starts With Anatomy
In order to understand the significance of any traumatic brain injury, a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology is certainly helpful. If we want to comprehend the extent of any bodily injury and repair process, one must first look at typical structure and function.
The brain is broken down into various regions, sometimes referred to as lobes, and connects to the spinal cord by way of the brain stem. Scientific and medical professionals may also refer to specific areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, and cerebellum, as individual structures that serve a more specific purpose in terms of function.
The organ itself is suspended in a viscous liquid known as cerebral spinal fluid. Although the term ‘float’ has been used to describe how the brain sits within the cranial cavity, the brain is held into place by various connective tissues called meninges. This prevents movement of our brains during regular to moderate activity. In the event of a traumatic injury, excessive force can cause the brain to suddenly jar, jerk, or just harshly move around within the skull.
The brain is fed by a myriad of different arteries and vessels that wrap around the outermost areas of the brain, as well as weave into and through the innermost structures. This system delivers imperative oxygen, as well as other nutrients to all areas of the brain. In a healthy brain, blood never crosses into the brain matter, but rather smaller molecules can pass through the artery membranes and diffuse across, through, and around the neuronal cells of the brain matter itself. Blood leaking into the brain is an immediate indication of injury. There are four primary sources that feed blood into the cerebral areas, the right and left vertebral arteries, as well as the right and left carotid arteries, and the smaller intraneuronal arteries branch off from these. Depending on the location of a traumatic brain injury, blood flow can be hindered to a significant portion of the brain if it occurs near one of these larger structures.
A healthy brain is comprised of various neuronal cell types that operate by sending electrical signals from one cell to another. Thick nerves that send primary signals are called cranial nerves, and these are surrounded by a plethora of smaller nerves that penetrate and extend throughout the brain, eventually connecting to the brain stem. Thousands of these cells create an incredibly complex highway of transmission lines that not only use charged ions to communicate, but also interact through the release, fluctuation, and binding of various hormones, also known as neurotransmitters. Almost every bodily function requires a complicated series of electrical transmissions to and from multiple areas within the brain. The most amazing part about this type of communication is the fact that it takes only a fraction of a second for our brains to send and process these signals.
Unlike bones or skin, our brains have a limited number of cells from which they can derive certain reparative functions. From birth, we have a very exclusive pool of stem cells that can successfully grow into functioning neurons. This is precisely why serious brain damage from some traumatic injuries can sometimes be irreversible.
Despite a limited number of neuron-intended stem cells, this organ has an incredible ability to grow and change. Neural plasticity is the term used to describe the brain’s ability to adapt to certain situations. For example, repeated stimulation and electrical activity in a given location might prompt the growth and development of new neurons. Some brains are also capable of rerouting certain signals in the event of injury or atypical development. Plasticity varies from one individual to the next, so making a specific prediction about repair or function improvement following a brain injury can be somewhat of a challenge.
Now that you have a general understanding of brain anatomy and its ability to function, we can dive into the specifics of what exactly happens during a traumatic injury, how that might affect overall human function, and how the brain might attempt to repair itself.
The car accident and personal injury lawyers at Martin + Colin, P.C., handle brain injury cases. If you have been hurt in an accident due to the negligence of another person, our attorneys may be able to help. Please email us by using the ‘Contact Us’ form on this page.
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