Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major health and socioeconomic problem that affects all societies. In recent years, patterns of injury have been changing, with more injuries, particularly contusions, occurring in older patients. Blast injuries have been identified as a novel entity with specific characteristics. Traditional approaches to the classification of clinical severity are the subject of debate owing to the widespread policy of early sedation and ventilation in more severely injured patients, and are being supplemented with structural and functional neuroimaging. Basic science research has greatly advanced our knowledge of the mechanisms involved in secondary damage, creating opportunities for medical intervention and targeted therapies; however, translating this research into patient benefit remains a challenge. Clinical management has become much more structured and evidence based since the publication of guidelines covering many aspects of care. In this Review, we summarise new developments and current knowledge and controversies, focusing on moderate and severe TBI in adults. Suggestions are provided for the way forward, with an emphasis on epidemiological monitoring, trauma organisation, and approaches to management.