What is Trauma?


The word trauma can be confusing. There are two main definitions – firstly, that trauma relates to a distressing or disturbing psychological experience. Trauma also means physical injury which may result in wounds, broken bones or internal organ damage. Often people that experience a physical trauma may also experience psychological difficulty due to the shock of the unexpected injury.

Traumatic injury is caused by various forces from outside of the body, which can either be blunt or penetrating (sharp). Blunt trauma includes falls, road traffic crashes; crush injuries, assaults (punches, kicks) and burns. Penetrating trauma involves shooting, stabbing or falling onto a sharp object (known as impalement).

Severity of Injury

An injury can be relatively minor, such as cutting a finger whilst opening a metal can or breaking a bone during a sporting event. Whilst these can be painful or uncomfortable, the person will usually be able to remain at home once the injury is treated by a GP, health clinic or emergency department.

However, traumatic injury can be more serious, requiring admission to hospital for assessment, treatment and rehabilitation. The full extent of injuries is not always apparent when a patient first arrives at hospital, and they may require in-depth examination and multiple tests (such as scans and x-rays) or operations in the first few days.

The severity of injury is calculated using a scoring system – the injury severity score (known as ISS).This score is calculated retrospectively once all injuries have been diagnosed. Some patients with severe injuries may require intensive care or specialist treatments which may require a transfer to another hospital.

hospitals that care for trauma patients

Some hospitals are designated as Major Trauma Centres (MTCs) where there is a full complement of medical specialities available on site, responsible for treating the most severely injured patients or those patients with multiple injuries. There are also Trauma Units (TUs), which are acute hospitals where patients with less severe injuries are treated. Patients may be transferred to a TU closer to home once their specialist treatment at an MTC is complete. Some patients can be discharged home directly from a MTC.

For more information about where to go in the UK for emergency and urgent care, follow this link

For more information about the Major Trauma System in London and the UK, follow this link