Conventional imaging is unable to detect damage that accounts for permanent cognitive impairment in patients with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). While diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) can help to detect diffuse axonal injury (DAI), it is a limited indicator of tissue complexity. It has also been suggested that the thalamus may play an important role in the development of clinical sequelae in mTBI. The purpose of this study was to determine if diffusional kurtosis imaging (DKI), a novel quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique, can provide early detection of damage in the thalamus and white matter (WM) of mTBI patients, and can help ascertain if thalamic injury is associated with cognitive impairment. Twenty-two mTBI patients and 14 controls underwent MRI and neuropsychological testing. Mean kurtosis (MK), fractional anisotropy (FA), and mean diffusivity (MD) were measured in the thalamus and several WM regions classically identified with DAI. Compared to controls, patients examined within 1 year after injury exhibited variously altered DTI- and DKI-derived measures in the thalamus and the internal capsule, while in addition to these regions, patients examined more than 1 year after injury also showed similar differences in the splenium of the corpus callosum and the centrum semiovale. Cognitive impairment was correlated with MK in the thalamus and the internal capsule. These findings suggest that combined use of DTI and DKI provides a more sensitive tool for identifying brain injury. In addition, MK in the thalamus might be useful for early prediction of permanent brain damage and cognitive outcome.