The injury happens before any overall motion of the head following impact, said researchers of the joint study by the university and Sandia National Laboratories, both in Albuquerque, N.M.
The researchers made the finding after after modeling early-time wave interactions in the human head following impact with a windshield, Sandia said in a news release.
Traumatic brain injury is linked with loss of the brain's ability to perform cognitive and memory tasks, process information and perform motor and coordination functions.
"We were interested in why people with head injuries of similar severity often have very different outcomes in memory function or returning to work,"
Paul Taylor of Sandia's Multiscale Computational Materials Methods Department, said.
Taylor said researchers found different types of stress affected the different types of cell damage that might occur.