For the brain to convey information to the rest of the body, it uses a complex network of nerves. The ability to move depends on the brain sending signals to the muscles via specific neurons. Different nerves send pain, pressure, or temperature information to the central nervous system. Each nerve contains a bundle of several tiny fibers that work together to transmit information. The nerves have insulation and protection on the outside. Damage to nerves is a possibility.
Too much pressure, stretching, or a cut can all cause harm to the nerves. Overstressing the median nerve in the hand can lead to symptoms like carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome can slowly damage the median nerve over time, or it can happen all at once if the area is hurt.
If a nerve is hurt, it can no longer send electrical impulses because the signal can't get through the hole. Nerve damage caused by stretching can range from minor and transitory to permanent. The degree of damage is proportional to the length of the stretch.
Signs & Symptoms of Nerve Damage
Depending on the nerve involved, the nature of the damage, and its severity, the signs and symptoms of a nerve injury can vary widely. These are a few examples:
- Numbness: Injury to the sensory nerves (which carry sensation) can lead to numbness.
- Weakness: Some nerves give you the ability to move, others offer you sensation, and others do both. When the nerves that transmit motor signals are damaged, the person becomes weak.
- Pain: It is common for nerve damage to cause pain. A nerve injury can cause pain anywhere along the nerve's path, although it most often manifests where the nerve was damaged.
Recurring nerve injuries might cause occasional symptoms, while severe nerve injuries can cause constant discomfort. Muscle atrophy, skin color changes, and abnormal sweat distribution are just a few indicators of nerve damage.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is an example of a nerve injury that might reoccur. When the median nerve is compressed too much as it travels through the wrist, carpal tunnel syndrome results; if there is a problem with the ulnar nerve, which supplies the hands and arms, you might feel numb and sore, have pain in your wrists and forearms, and be weak, especially in your thumb. Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms might come and go or be constant if the condition is severe.
Some nerve injuries can heal independently, but others require medical attention.
- A mild injury to the nerve: In a minor nerve injury, the nerve can heal on its own, typically within minutes but sometimes taking weeks. As a result, changes in the brain's communications with the body are possible throughout this time. In many cases, surgery isn't needed, but it can be helpful if it's done along with other care.
- Broken nerve fibers or more severe injuries: If a nerve is severed or severely damaged, new nerve fibers can grow back to connect the injured part of the body to the rest of the body, although this process can take many months. However, surgical intervention may be required depending on the injury's severity.
- Cut nerve: When the nerve's protective sheath and inner fibers are severed, surgery is usually required for proper nerve healing.
In a surgical procedure, the nerves might have their ends reattached (Figure 2). To get back to normal, the inner nerve fibers must grow back to the muscle or skin they connect to.
Recovery After Surgery
After a nerve is surgically reattached, the nerve fibers develop slowly, about one inch per month, under optimum conditions. After an injury, the nerve needs to expand in length, which might take several months, depending on several circumstances. Muscles can take as long as this to start functioning normally again. A "pins and needles" sensation, tingling, or numbness could occur during the healing process.
After a nerve injury, physical treatment is sometimes required.
The extent to which you recover from a nerve injury is influenced by factors such as your age, general health, the type of nerve injury sustained, and the affected body part.