Causes of head injury
External cause relates to the circumstance in which an injury has occurred. Almost all head injury hospitalisations (over 99%) have an external cause recorded. No external cause data is available for emergency department presentations. The technical notes section of this report provides detail on how external causes are classified and counted for hospitalisations and deaths.
Falls were the most common cause of both hospitalisations and deaths from head injuries in Australia, followed by transport (Table 4).
Head injury hospitalisations
All injury hospitalisations
Head injury deaths
All injury deaths
Contact with objects
Source: AIHW National Hospitals Morbidity Database and AIHW National Mortality Database
Head injury hospitalisations contributed to:
- 69% of assault-related injury hospitalisations
- 33% of fall-related injury hospitalisations
- 30% of transport-related injury hospitalisations (Figure 7).
Of deaths related to injury, head injuries contributed to:
- 37% of deaths caused by homicide
- around a quarter of deaths caused by falls (27%) or contact with objects (24%) (AIHW 2023b)
- 21% of deaths caused by transport.
Figure 7: Proportion of head injury hospitalisations, by cause, 2020–21
An interactive chart where users can toggle between head injury hospitalisations and deaths as a proportion of all injury hospitalisations, by cause. Assault has the highest proportion of head injury hospitalisations, followed by falls and transport.
Males had higher age-standardised rates than females across all hospitalised injury cause groups, most notably for thermal causes (2.6 times higher) and transport (2.1 times higher) (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Age-standardised rates of head injury hospitalisations, by cause and sex, 2020–21
A hurricane chart showing that for all cause groups, males had higher age-standardised rates of head injury hospitalisation compared to females.
Assault was the leading cause of injuries to the cheek and jaw. Nearly 2 in 3 (64%) of head injury hospitalisations caused by assault were for males (comparable to 62% of all injury hospitalisations).
Females were over 9 times more likely to have been assaulted by their spouse or domestic partner (22 per 100,000) compared to the rate for males with a head injury hospitalisation due to assault (2 per 100,000).
Out of the total 23,000 assault-related hospitalisations in 2020–21 head injuries were involved in:
- 4 in 5 male hospitalisations (82%) caused by assault by bodily force
- 78% of assault injury hospitalisations perpetrated by a person/s unknown to the victim
- 3 in 4 injury hospitalisations caused by assault by blunt object (77%) or assault by unspecified means (74%).
Falls contribute a higher proportion of head injury hospitalisations compared to overall injury hospitalisations regardless of sex.
- among females, falls contributed to 66% of head injury versus 52% of all injury hospitalisations
- among males, falls contributed to 49% of head injury versus 34% of all hospitalisations
Out of the total 243,000 fall-related hospitalisations in 2020–21:
- 0–4-year-olds were the age group with the highest proportion of head injuries (74% of the 10,300 fall-related hospitalisations)
- falls while being carried or supported by other people was the type of fall with the highest proportion of head injuries (76%).
Transport was the leading cause of head injury hospitalisation in the 15–24 age group. Males were twice as likely as females to be hospitalised for all transport related injuries, which is also reflected in head injury hospitalisations (110 and 52 cases per 100,000 respectively).
63% of all transport-related hospitalisations in the 0–4 age group involved a head injury.