When physics meets biology: Low and high-velocity penetration, blunt impact, and blast injuries to the brain

Leanne Young, Gregory T. Rule, Robert T. Bocchieri, Timothy J. Walilko, Jennie M. Burns, Geoffrey Ling

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The incidence of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the US has reached epidemic proportions with well over 2 million new cases reported each year. TBI can occur in both civilians and warfighters, with head injuries occurring in both combat and non-combat situations from a variety of threats, including ballistic penetration, acceleration, blunt impact, and blast. Most generally, TBI is a condition in which physical loads exceed the capacity of brain tissues to absorb without injury. More specifically, TBI results when sufficient external force is applied to the head and is subsequently converted into stresses that must be absorbed or redirected by protective equipment. If the stresses are not sufficiently absorbed or redirected, they will lead to damage of extracranial soft tissue and the skull. Complex interactions and kinematics of the head, neck and jaw cause strains within the brain tissue, resulting in structural, anatomical damage that is characteristic of the inciting insult. This mechanical trauma then initiates a neuro-chemical cascade that leads to the functional consequences of TBI, such as cognitive impairment. To fully understand the mechanisms by which TBI occurs, it is critically important to understand the effects of the loading environments created by these threats. In the following, a review is made of the pertinent complex loading conditions and how these loads cause injury. Also discussed are injury thresholds and gaps in knowledge, both of which are needed to design improved protective systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number00089
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 2015


  • Ballistics
  • Blast
  • Blunt trauma
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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