Ninety-eight brain contusions in 17 patients served as a data base for a comparative study of MR and CT for defining brain contusions. MR was the more sensitive technique, detecting 98% of the brain contusions compared with only 56% by CT. CT was slightly better for showing hemorrhagic components, documenting 77% of hemorrhages compared with 71% for MR. The appearance of the contusions on MR was variable, depending on the T1- and T2-weighting of the images and the constituents of the contusions, such as edema, hemorrhage, and encephalomalacia. On MR, hemorrhagic components appeared as high signal on T1-weighted images and as either low or high signal on T2-weighted images, depending on the age of the hemorrhage. The approximate ages of hemorrhagic contusions were often suggested by their appearance on T1- and T2-weighted images. CT is very effective for evaluating acute head trauma, but MR is recommended for documenting brain contusions during the subacute and chronic stages of head injuries.