Bruising in non-accidental head injured children; a retrospective study of the prevalence, distribution and pathological associations in 24 cases

Forensic Sci Int. 1998 Sep 28;96(2-3):215-30. doi: 10.1016/s0379-0738(98)00126-1.


Non-accidental head injury, be it shaking, impact(s) or a combination of the two, is characterised by subdural and/or subarachnoid haemorrhages with retinal haemorrhages, but minimal or absent external cranio-facial trauma. The classical assault scenario depicts the infant being gripped around the head, face, chest and abdomen and shaken or being gripped by a limb and swung. This gripping might be expected to leave physical evidence in the form of bruising. A study was undertaken to establish the prevalence, distribution and pathological association of external bruising in 24 cases of fatal non-accidental head injury in children. At autopsy, 17 cases had new external bruises, 15 old external bruises and 13, a combination of both. However, seven (29%) cases showed no fresh external bruising and five (21%) showed no external bruising at all. Thus, external bruising may be absent in children with fatal intracranial injury. The face was shown to be the commonest site of bruising followed by the forehead and buttocks. Limb, chest and abdominal bruising were found to be uncommon. Retinal haemorrhages were confirmed in 23 (96%) cases. It is hypothesised that bruising, when present, may be a result of abuse in the form of punches and slaps rather than due to gripping during the assault. We discuss why gripping does not necessarily result in external bruising.

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / mortality*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Contusions / epidemiology
  • Contusions / etiology
  • Contusions / pathology*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / etiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / mortality
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / pathology*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Forensic Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Prevalence