Nerve damage can produce a range of symptoms, including loss of sensation and motion. These symptoms could persist throughout your life since doctors have few options for treating damaged nerves.
When you suffer nerve damage, you may need to change job duties or even change your career. You might lose the ability to participate in activities you enjoy. Chronic pain from your injuries might affect your daily life.
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What Is the Structure of Your Nervous System?
Your nervous system includes two parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system.
The CNS includes the brain and spinal cord. The brain controls the entire nervous system by receiving sensory perceptions from and sending control signals to the rest of the body. The spinal cord provides the trunk of the system. It carries signals between your brain and body below the neck.
The peripheral nervous system includes all of the nerves that connect the CNS to the body. These nerves include:
Cranial nerves connect your brain to other places in your head. The cranial nerves connect your brain to your eyes, nose, tongue, and ears. Your brain also uses cranial nerves for chewing, swallowing, and making facial expressions.
Nerve roots branch from the spinal cord. The body has only 31 pairs of nerve roots to control the entire body. Each of these nerve roots is responsible for carrying out all of the communications between a body area and your brain.
Peripheral nerves branch from the nerve roots. These nerves run to particular muscles and organs to control them. They branch into smaller and smaller nerves so they can control the entire body.
Nerve endings sit in the dermal layer of the skin.
They provide your sense of touch and pick up sensations such as:
The nerve endings send signals representing these sensations to the brain. The brain can then control the body in response to those sensory signals. For example, suppose that your brain senses a sharp object like a needle piercing your finger. It reacts and sends a signal to your hand to pull your hand away.
How Does Nerve Damage Happen?
The term “nerve damage” usually refers to an injury to the peripheral nervous system. Doctors also refer to this type of injury as “peripheral neuropathy.”
Nerves can become damaged in several ways, including:
Nerve cells, also called neurons, communicate using electric charges. Like wires, these electrical charges travel along the nerve from the source of the signal to its destination.
Traction happens when nerves get stretched. Stretching can damage the nerve cells. It can also pull the nerve cells too far away to communicate with each other.
Sometimes, traction can happen when your body gets hyperextended. One example of a traction injury happens when a doctor commits medical malpractice while delivering a baby. If the doctor pulls too hard on a baby’s arm during delivery, the doctor can hyperextend the brachial plexus.
The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves in the shoulder that controls the arm. A brachial plexus injury can cause weakness or even paralysis in the baby’s arm.
Burns happen when a chemical reaction damages or destroys body cells. Types of burns include thermal burns from hot objects, combustion burns from flames, and chemical burns from caustic substances.
Severe burns can destroy nerves or nerve endings. A third-degree burn, for example, causes no pain because the burn destroys the nerve endings in the middle layer of the skin.
Burns can happen in workplace accidents. Chemical splashes and spills can cause chemical burns. Machinery, flames, or explosions can cause thermal or combustion burns. And radiation sources, like X-ray machines, can cause radiation burns.
Penetrating trauma happens when nerves get severed. Severed nerves cannot carry the signals needed to transmit information between the brain and body. Sometimes doctors can repair severed nerves with a nerve graft. In this procedure, doctors use a donor nerve from the patient or a cadaver to reattach the ends of the nerve.
But nerves cannot regrow. If doctors cannot perform a nerve graft, the accident victim will suffer permanent symptoms from severed nerves.
What Are Common Symptoms of Nerve Damage?
Nerve damage can produce a range of symptoms, depending on the type of nerve signal that gets disrupted.
Nerves carry three types of signals:
- Autonomic signals control your involuntary systems
- Motor signals control your muscles
- Sensory signals carry sense perceptions
Injuries to these nerves cause symptoms such as:
Autonomic Nerve Damage
Autonomic nerves control organs and muscles associated with involuntary systems like digestion, respiration, and circulation.
Symptoms of autonomic nerve damage include:
- Heart arrhythmia
- Rapid or slow breathing
- Low or high blood pressure
- Inability to sweat
- Sexual dysfunction
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
You might not associate these symptoms with a nerve injury. But if you experience any of these symptoms after an accident, you should speak to a doctor.
Motor Nerve Damage
Motor nerve damage affects the way your brain controls your muscles.
Some symptoms of motor nerve damage include:
- Loss of dexterity
- Muscle spasms
Even if you do not suffer paralysis, motor nerve damage can cause significant impairment. For example, if you suffer weakness in your leg, you might need a leg brace or other device to assist you with your mobility.
Sensory Nerve Damage
Sensory nerve damage affects the way your brain gathers information. Sensory nerve damage to your cranial nerves can profoundly affect your life because it impairs or deprives you of your vision, hearing, smell, or taste.
When sensory nerve damage happens in your peripheral nerves, you can experience:
- Loss of balance
Sensory nerve damage can have strange effects. The symptoms you experience might appear far from where you suffered your injury. Thus, if you injure the nerves in your hip, you might have numbness in your toes.
How Can You Get Compensation for Nerve Damage?
You may be entitled to compensation for nerve damage arising from an accident caused by someone else. You usually need to prove negligence to get compensation. If you can do so, you can get compensation for the effects of your injuries and the medical attention you need to treat them.