What is a minor head injury?
A minor head injury is a knock, bump or blow to the head that doesn’t cause serious injury. It’s common in people of all ages, can happen in many different ways and it usually doesn’t lead to permanent damage.
However, some seemingly minor head injuries may be more serious than they first appear and may need medical attention. Call an ambulance or ask someone to take you to the emergency department immediately if you’ve injured your head and you:
- lost consciousness — no matter how briefly
- have a headache that doesn’t go away after taking painkillers
- vomited after the injury
- have had behaviour and/or mood changes, or memory problems
- were drinking alcohol or taking drugs just before you injured your head
- take blood-thinners (like warfarin) or have a blood clotting disorder (like haemophilia)
- have had brain surgery in the past
Call an ambulance if someone has injured their head and they:
- were in a serious accident, such as a car crash, when it happened
- have clear fluid leaking from their ears or nose
- are bleeding from their ears or have bruising behind their ears
- lost consciousness and haven’t woken up
- are struggling to stay awake or keep their eyes open
- have had a fit (seizure)
- can’t see normally
- have numbness or weakness anywhere or problems walking or balancing as normal
- have difficulty, understanding what’s happening, or speaking or writing as normal
Do you have questions about a head injury?
If you’re not sure if you have a serious head injury, check your symptoms by downloading our free Self-Assessment Tool.
Minor head injury symptoms
Minor head injuries often cause a bump or bruise on the head. Other symptoms of a minor head injury may include:
- feeling sick (nausea)
- mild headache
- feeling dazed
If you develop these mild symptoms after a knock, bump or blow to the head, you may not need any specific treatment. However, you should see a doctor if you’re worried, your symptoms last more than 2 weeks or if you’re not sure if it’s safe for you to work, drive, go to school or do sports.
Causes of minor head injuries
Minor head injuries are common in people of all ages and can happen in many different ways.
The most common causes of a minor head injury are:
- physical assaults
- road traffic accidents
It’s also thought that alcohol may be a factor in up to 65% of adult head injuries.
Other causes of minor head injuries in young people and adults include accidents at home, sports-related injuries and work accidents
What should I do if I have a minor head injury?
If your head injury is minor you usually won't need to visit your doctor or hospital for treatment.If you’re worried about a head injury, see your doctor. Otherwise, follow the advice below.If you have a minor head injury:
- ask someone to stay with you and keep within easy reach of a telephone and medical help for the first 48 hours after the injury. Call your doctor for advice if you have no one to stay with you
- have plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations
- don’t drink alcohol
- don’t take sleeping pills, sedatives or tranquillisers (unless a doctor has told you to)
- don’t take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (unless your doctor has told you to)
- take simple painkillers, such as paracetamol, if you have a headache (always follow the manufacturer’s instructions)
- don’t play any contact sport, such as football or rugby, for at least 3 weeks, and speak to your doctor before you start playing again
- don’t return to work, college or school until you have completely recovered and feel ready
- don’t drive a car, motorbike or bicycle or operate machinery until you have completely recovered
How to prevent head injuries
It’s not always possible to avoid the types of accidents that can cause head injuries, but you can reduce your risk of a head injury if an accident happens by doing the following things.
Staying safe on the road.
- Wear a properly fitting safety helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle.
- Use lights and wearing reflective clothing when cycling in the dark.
- Be aware of the dangers of the road, know how to stay safe and follow your country or region’s rules for road users.
- Check that your bike or motorcycle is in good working order before using it.
Preventing accidents at home
Tips for reducing the risk of accidents at home that could lead to a head injury include:
- Keep stairways tidy so you don’t trip over anything.
- Use appropriate safety equipment if you’re doing any kind of home handiwork (DIY).
- Don’t stand on an unstable chair to change a light bulb or reach high objects – use a stable stepladder.
- Clean up any spillages to prevent someone slipping over.
Preventing accidents at work
To reduce the risk of getting a head injury at work, always follow health and safety guidelines, and don’t do manual tasks that you haven’t been appropriately trained to do.
Staying safe while playing sports
Always wear any necessary safety equipment when playing sports, particularly contact sports. Don’t play any contact sports after a head injury without speaking to your doctor.
Complications of a minor head injury
A minor head injury carries a small risk of complications, such as a concussion. If you develop any of the following symptoms up to a few days after a minor head injury, go to the emergency department immediately as you may have a concussion:
- a headache that doesn’t get better or go away after taking painkillers
- memory loss
- dizziness, clumsiness or trouble with your balance
- feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- feeling stunned, dazed or confused
- a change in your mood or behaviour
- changes in your vision
- fainting, feeling very drowsy or struggling to stay awake.
If you develop any complications from your head injury, you may find it useful to talk to someone about it. Speak to your doctor for advice on local support services that may be of help.
- a minor head injury is a knock, bump or blow to the head that doesn’t cause serious injury
- some seemingly minor head injuries may be more serious than they first appear and may need medical attention - watch out for symptoms like loss of consciousness, vomiting after the injury or a headache that doesn’t get better after taking painkillers
- If you’re worried about a head injury, always see a doctor
- it’s not always possible to prevent head injuries, but taking care on the road, at home and work can help reduce the risk
Date of last review: 30 September 2020
Date of next review: 30 September 2023
- Head injury | Topics A to Z | CKS | NICE | July 2016| Available here.
- Head injury | NHS | 4 April 2018| Available here.
- Concussion - Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment | BMJ Best Practice | 30 August 2020| Available here.
- Minor head injury | nidirect | Available here.
- Concussion | NHS | | 11 June 2020 | Available here.