Nerves are fragile and can be damaged by continued compression, being over-stretched, cutting, and other causes. Nerve injuries can block messages getting to the brain, so muscles don’t function correctly; they can create a loss of feeling in the area served by the nerve; they can create burning or freezing types of pain; and other problems.
At Los Angeles Nerve Institute, Dr. Seruya is a specialist in peripheral nerve surgery. Here’s some information so you can better understand the nerves and different ways they can become damaged.
What is Nerve Damage?
We have three types of nerves:
- Autonomic nerves — These nerves control our background functions that are mostly involuntary: heart rate, digestion, blood pressure, temperature regulation, etc.
- Motor nerves — These nerves control movements and actions by passing information from the brain and spinal cord to our muscles.
- Sensory nerves — These nerves relay information from the skin and muscles back to the spinal cord and to the brain. These are the pain nerves.
Nerve damage, clinically termed peripheral neuropathy when referring to your peripheral nerves, causes numbness, tingling sensations, pain, and eventual weakness, usually in the hands or the feet. Peripheral neuropathy can result due a variety of causes — from traumatic injuries to infections to repetitive motion.
Different nerves = different symptoms
With nerve damage, symptoms vary widely based on the type of nerve and the location. Dr. Seruya works with peripheral nerves, those located outside the brain and spinal cord. Here are the different symptoms of nerve damage for the different nerve types.
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
- Lightheadedness due to blood pressure changes
- Inability to sense chest pain
- Too much or too little sweat production
Symptoms can indicate damage to two or three nerve types, so it can be a combination of these symptoms.
What causes nerve damage?
Here are some of the possible causes of nerve damage:
- Trauma/compression– Motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, falls, and other cases of physical trauma can sever or damage peripheral nerves. Repetitive motion can also cause inflammation of surrounding tissues, leading to nerve compression and future damage.
- Diabetes— Up to 70 percent of people with diabetes suffer from nerve damage. Diabetic neuropathy can affect all three types of nerves.
- Autoimmune diseases– A variety of autoimmune diseases — lupus, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and others — can cause nerve damage.
- Cancer – Tumors may push against or crush nerves. Or they may create nutritional deficiencies that affect nerve function. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments can damage nerves.
- Drug side effects/toxic substances– Certain medications, such as some chemotherapies for cancer, and toxic substances, such as mercury, can damage the nerves.
- Nutritional deficiencies — Deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12 can cause nerve damage. These can occur due to alcoholism or after gastric surgery.
- Infectious disease— Diseases such as Lyme disease, herpes viruses, HIV, hepatitis C, and others can damage nerves.
Before & After
Can damaged nerves heal?
While spinal cord nerves cannot heal themselves, peripheral nerves have the ability to regenerate. If both the nerve and the outer insulation are cut, the nerve will need to be fixed to regain function. Otherwise it will for a painful nerve scar, called a neuroma. Sometimes fibers inside the nerve break, but the outer insulation remains intact and healthy. These nerves can heal. The end furthest from the brain will die, but the end closer to the brain will not. New nerve fibers may then grow to replace those that die.
Can severed nerves be repaired?
If there is a gap where the nerve was severed, it may be necessary to place a nerve graft to fill the gap. This graft needs to come from a donor part of the body, and that area may then have some permanent loss of feeling.
Once the insulating cover is repaired, the nerve generally begins to heal three or four weeks later. Nerves grow about one inch per month, so it can take some time for feeling to return. A sign that the nerve is regenerating after an injury to the wrist, for instance, would be a feeling of pins and needles in the fingertips.
What Our Patients Have To Say
Dr. Seruya and the staff provided exceptional care to my son. All were very professional and friendly. I was very impressed with Dr. Seruya. If it wasn’t Dr. Seruya I don’t know what would have happened. They took the time to answer all my questions & concerns and never once did I feel rushed. Dr. Seruya went out of his way to help! We are forever grateful to everyone. Because of their knowledge, the diagnosis, the surgery, and the occupational therapists, my son has been making incredible, unbelievable progress even still to this day. Our lives are forever changed. We were blessed to have Dr. Seruya on our case.
What is a nerve graft?
What is a pinched nerve?
When would a person need to see a nerve specialist?
If a nerve is severed by trauma, it needs immediate attention to surgically repair it. Again, this demands the expertise of a nerve specialist, such as Dr. Seruya.
How to choose a nerve specialist
To find the right nerve specialist to relieve your pain and possibly repair damaged nerves, you need to do some research. Look for a specialist in “peripheral nerve surgery” because nerve damage may involve surgery to repair severed nerves or to repair nerves where the outer insulation has been damaged. Repairing nerves involves intricate surgery, but it allows the nerve fibers to regenerate, returning function to the nerve.