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What is Physical Trauma?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Physical trauma is a physical injury that is serious and could endanger a patient's life. Common causes of physical trauma include car accidents, burns, drowning, explosions, crush injuries, and severe beatings. Treatment for physical trauma usually needs to take place in a hospital environment and may include surgery, as well as a lengthy rehabilitation. The prognosis varies depending on the extent of the injuries, the patient's health at the time of the injury, and how quickly treatment is delivered.

There are a number of concerns with physical trauma. Immediate problems can include blood loss, brain damage, respiratory impairment, and severe pain. Patients must be quickly assessed to identify their injuries and to determine which injuries are most serious. They must also be supported if they are unstable with treatments like intravenous fluids and blood transfusions to manage blood loss, ventilation if they cannot breathe independently, and bandaging to stop or slow bleeding.

A workup for physical trauma also includes evaluations for potential complications and secondary injuries. This can include neurological screening to identify signs of injuries to the brain, as brain damage is not always readily apparent, along with medical imaging studies to search for internal bleeding, undiagnosed fractures, and other injuries that could be dangerous if they are not treated. Wounds also need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove contaminants from the scene, with the goal of reducing infection, and patients may be given prophylactic antibiotics and other drugs to prevent inflammation and infection.

Hospitals handle physical trauma in emergency rooms and trauma units. Care teams can include nurses, doctors, and a variety of medical specialists who may be consulted to address specific issues such as fractures and organ damage. Psychologists and rehabilitation professionals also commonly spend time with patients who have experience trauma to identify issues that will need to be addressed once the patient is stable and in recovery.

Health care providers who specialize in trauma care include paramedics, emergency room nurses, and trauma surgeons. These professionals need to be able to act quickly to assess and care for a patient, sometimes in chaotic and upsetting situations. Training for people interested in providing trauma care is provided in a variety of settings to get people accustomed to working in mixed environments. In addition to receiving medical training, trauma care providers also need to learn to work with law enforcement and other emergency services and they must be familiarized with protocols relevant to mass traumas, such as plans for handling terrorist attacks, building collapses, and other emergencies.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By John57 — On Dec 14, 2011

As life changing and difficult as physical trauma can be, I think that child abuse and emotional trauma are worse. Many times there is also a vicious circle between child abuse and physical trauma.

It seems like a week doesn't go by that you don't hear of some child being abused on the news. I work with kids, so have had training on watching for the signs of child abuse.

Many times my gut tells me something is going on even before I see many of the signs. Once the common signs begin appearing, I know a lot of damage has already been done.

There has been a lot of media attention in recent years on preventing child abuse, but there are still a lot of people out there who get away with it every day.

It makes my heart sick to think about children being abused and neglected. If you know a child who might be abused, I would encourage people to have the courage to speak up and do something about it.

As hard as it may be, if you just keep silent, the abuse will only continue and get worse.

By golf07 — On Dec 13, 2011

We live close to a hospital that has a life flight helicopter. Whenever I hear that helicopter over head, I know someone has experienced some major physical trauma.

I am always reminded of a major car accident my sister was involved in when she was in high school. Five girls were driving home from school, and one of them was killed with the others suffering major injuries.

This happened before they had helicopter flights to hospitals, but if there been one, she would have been in it.

She suffered physical trauma all over her body from her brain all the way down to a broken foot. Trauma and physical health often go hand in hand, as this affected her life for many years to come.

She still has physical and mental complications from this trauma she went through many years ago.

By cloudel — On Dec 12, 2011

Physical trauma often brings with it emotional trauma. When we suffer intense physical pain or even unconsciousness, we develop fears of the situations that put us in these circumstances.

I was injured in a tornado last year. I was running to the storm shelter next door, but the funnel cloud was approaching too fast. The wind picked me up, and I got pelted with sharp debris.

I bled a lot as I lay there waiting to be rescued. I lost consciousness, and I woke up in the hospital.

Now, whenever I hear so much as distant thunder, I begin to shake all over. On stormy nights, I go and sleep in my friend's basement with my dogs. I will never be able to emotionally cope with storms again.

By Perdido — On Dec 12, 2011

I had some moderate physical trauma from a car wreck, and though it hurt intensely, it turned out to be not as bad as I thought. When the emergency responders found me lying on the grass outside my car, they feared the worst.

My leg and knee hurt worse than anything. I had been sitting in the backseat without a seat belt on, because I had my large dog in my lap. When a van pulled out and my dad could not avoid hitting it, my knee rammed into the back of his seat very hard.

Thankfully, my dog suffered no physical trauma. My dad had a bruised and scraped forearm because of the airbag, but otherwise, he was okay. The doctor did an x-ray of my knee and found it wasn't even fractured, so we were blessed.

By StarJo — On Dec 11, 2011

@kylee07drg – Children who endure abuse often feel like it's somehow their fault. They feel too ashamed to come forward and ask for help. That's how my neighbor's girl felt, and if her mom hadn't beat her publicly, the abuse might never have been discovered.

They were in the grocery store one day when the mother started hitting her daughter. She slapped her across the face and kicked her in the side once she fell to the ground.

The store owner called the police, who took the girl to the hospital and discovered that she was bleeding internally. One of her ribs was fractured, and she had to have surgery to stop the bleeding.

The mother went to jail and will likely never see her daughter again. That is how it should be. Anyone who would cause physical trauma to their child on purpose should not be allowed near any child.

By kylee07drg — On Dec 11, 2011

When I think of physical trauma, I think of physical child abuse. This is an issue dear to my heart, because my best friend endured abuse throughout her childhood years.

Her teachers began to notice that something wasn't right with her. She would come to school with a black eye and say that she ran into a door, or she would show up with bruises on her arms and say that they were due to her clumsiness.

One teacher finally sent a social worker to her house. My friend ended up getting rescued and placed in foster care with a nice family.

However, because of the physical trauma she had endured, she did not like to be touched. Any time that someone leaned in to hug her, she gasped and ran away. I doubt she will ever be able to have a romantic relationship, which means she also will be unable to have children.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Dec 10, 2011

@summing - That sounds horrible! I am so sorry that that happened to you. I have had several of my own experience with physical trauma but none of them have been with as big of an audience as it sounds like you had.

Three years ago I was in a car accident that left me in a lot of pain. the weird thing was that I did not break anything. The force of the collision did something to my neck and back and they have both bothered me ever since. I have seen many doctors about it but these are sensitive and kind of mysterious parts of the body. Often the causes of the pain are unclear and there are few effective treatments. It has gotten better with time but some mornings I still wake up feeling stiff as a board. Here's hoping that we can both make full recoveries from our accidents.

By summing — On Dec 09, 2011

I suffered a pretty severe physical trauma a few years back after I fell down a flight of stairs. I had several broken bones and a lot of internal bleeding.

The worst part was that it hurt really bad and I had to spend a lot on doctor's bills, but the accident itself must have seemed pretty funny to anyone that saw it. I tripped right at the top of this long flight of stairs with lots of people milling around. I went end over end down the whole thing just like a cartoon character or some clown in a bumbling comedy. It was only once I was moaning at the base of the stairs that the joke stopped.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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