Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) of the brain represents a new imaging technique that extends imaging from depiction of neuroanatomy to the level of function and physiology. DWI measures a fundamentally different physiological parameter compared with conventional MRI. Image contrast is related to differences in the diffusion rate of water molecules rather than to changes in total tissue water. DWI can reveal pathology in cases where conventional MRI remains unremarkable. DWI has proven to be highly sensitive in the early detection of acute cerebral ischemia and seems promising in the evaluation of traumatic brain injury. DWI can differentiate between lesions with decreased and increased diffusion. In addition, full-tensor DWI can evaluate the microscopic architecture of the brain, in particular white matter tracts, by measuring the degree and spatial distribution of anisotropic diffusion within the brain. This article reviews the basic concepts of DWI and its application in cerebral ischemia and traumatic brain injury.