[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
Original Investigation
June 3, 2019

Recovery After Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Patients Presenting to US Level I Trauma Centers: A Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury (TRACK-TBI) Study

Author Affiliations
  • 1Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
  • 2University of Washington, Seattle
  • 3Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • 5University of California, San Francisco
  • 6Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
  • 7University of California, San Diego, La Jolla
  • 8Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California
  • 9University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 10University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA Neurol. 2019;76(9):1049-1059. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.1313
Key Points

Question  How common are persistent, injury-related functional limitations following mild traumatic brain injury vs orthopedic trauma?

Findings  In this cohort study of 1154 patients with mild traumatic brain injury and 299 patients with orthopedic trauma serving as controls, 53% of participants with mild traumatic brain injury reported impairment 12 months postinjury vs 38% of those with orthopedic trauma. Patients with intracranial abnormalities had the poorest outcomes; however, patients without abnormalities also reported problems at 12 months.

Meaning  Many patients who present to level I trauma centers with mild traumatic brain injury experience difficulties at 12 months postinjury, suggesting that this injury is not always benign; better follow-up and treatment appear to be needed.


Importance  Most traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are classified as mild (mTBI) based on admission Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) scores of 13 to 15. The prevalence of persistent functional limitations for these patients is unclear.

Objectives  To characterize the natural history of recovery of daily function following mTBI vs peripheral orthopedic traumatic injury in the first 12 months postinjury using data from the Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury (TRACK-TBI) study, and, using clinical computed tomographic (CT) scans, examine whether the presence (CT+) or absence (CT−) of acute intracranial findings in the mTBI group was associated with outcomes.

Design, Setting, and Participants  TRACK-TBI, a cohort study of patients with mTBI presenting to US level I trauma centers, enrolled patients from February 26, 2014, to August 8, 2018, and followed up for 12 months. A total of 1453 patients at 11 level I trauma center emergency departments or inpatient units met inclusion criteria (ie, mTBI [n = 1154] or peripheral orthopedic traumatic injury [n = 299]) and were enrolled within 24 hours of injury; mTBI participants had admission GCS scores of 13 to 15 and clinical head CT scans. Patients with peripheral orthopedic trauma injury served as the control (OTC) group.

Exposures  Participants with mTBI or OTC.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The Glasgow Outcome Scale Extended (GOSE) scale score, reflecting injury-related functional limitations across broad life domains at 2 weeks and 3, 6, and 12 months postinjury was the primary outcome. The possible score range of the GOSE score is 1 (dead) to 8 (upper good recovery), with a score less than 8 indicating some degree of functional impairment.

Results  Of the 1453 participants, 953 (65.6%) were men; mean (SD) age was 40.9 (17.1) years in the mTBI group and 40.9 (15.4) years in the OTC group. Most participants (mTBI, 87%; OTC, 93%) reported functional limitations (GOSE <8) at 2 weeks postinjury. At 12 months, the percentage of mTBI participants reporting functional limitations was 53% (95% CI, 49%-56%) vs 38% (95% CI, 30%-45%) for OTCs. A higher percentage of CT+ patients reported impairment (61%) compared with the mTBI CT− group (49%; relative risk [RR], 1.24; 95% CI, 1.08-1.43) and a higher percentage in the mTBI CT−group compared with the OTC group (RR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.02-1.60).

Conclusions and Relevance  Most patients with mTBI presenting to US level I trauma centers report persistent, injury-related life difficulties at 1 year postinjury, suggesting the need for more systematic follow-up of patients with mTBI to provide treatments and reduce the risk of chronic problems after mTBI.