Types of head injury

This report discusses common injury types including:

  • Fracture: A partial or complete break in a bone
  • Soft-tissue injury: Sprain or strain of muscles, ligaments or joints
  • Open wound: A break in the skin such as a cut, puncture or bite
  • Intracranial injury:  inside the skull (often a concussion)
  • Dislocation: A separation of different bones where they join
  • Superficial injury: An injury to the skin surface such as abrasion, bruising or blistering.

The most common type of head injury for ED presentations and hospitalisations was an open wound (28% and 27% respectively). This was followed by:

  • superficial injuries, and foreign object (through orifice) for ED presentations (14% and 11%)
  • intracranial injuries, and fractures for hospitalisations (22% and 16%) (Table 6).

In contrast, the top three types of injuries for all injury hospitalisations and ED presentations were:

  • Fractures
  • Open wounds
  • Soft-tissue injuries (sprains or strains of muscles, ligaments or joints).
Table 6: Top 3 specified types of head injury, 2020–21
Head injury ED presentations%All injury ED presentations%Head injury hospitalisations%All injury hospitalisations%
Open wound28Fracture22Open wound27Fracture38
Superficial injury14Open wound17Intracranial injury22Open wound16
Foreign object (through orifice)11Soft-tissue15Fracture16Soft-tissue10

Source: AIHW National Hospitals Morbidity Database and AIHW National Non-admitted Patient Emergency Department Care (NNAPEDC) Database

An injury to the eye membrane without a foreign body was the most common ED head injury diagnosis with a specified bodily location (19,900). For hospitalisations, it was an open wound of the scalp (14,000).

Types of injuries and presentation patterns changed depending on age and sex.


Concussions are typically associated with contact sports, however they can occur in nearly every sport (AIHW 2023e). Sports injuries contributed to 3,100 hospitalisations (24%) for concussive injuries.

People under 25 made up 63% of concussion hospitalisations.


  • was the most common head injury for those aged 5–14 and hospitalised with a head injury (1,500 cases), and the third most common for 15–24-year-olds (1,500 cases)
  • was the third most frequent type of head injury for females presenting to ED (7,800)
  • in males presenting to the ED had 1.5 times the number of diagnoses (11,700 cases) than females
  • was among the top ten head injury diagnoses during hospitalisation for people aged under 45.