Nerve damage can induce a range of symptoms, from minor twinges and weakness to debilitating pain or even paralysis. As a result, you might lose your ability to work, perform daily activities, or even sleep comfortably.
Doctors can sometimes perform nerve graft surgery to repair damaged nerves, but in many cases, doctors cannot adequately treat extensive nerve damage, and victims will suffer from its effects for the rest of their life.
Learn about nerve damage and how you can pursue compensation for its potentially debilitating effects.
The Nervous System
Your nervous system comprises two parts — the central and peripheral nervous systems. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord.
Your brain controls all the muscles and organs in your body, including those that function automatically, like your heart and lungs. It also collects sensory information from your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin to determine how to control your body.
Your spinal cord connects your brain to the rest of your body below your neck and contains a bundle of nerves that runs through the spinal canal.
The peripheral nervous system includes all the nerves that branch off your central nervous system. Doctors typically use the term “nerve damage” to refer to damaged nerves in the peripheral nervous system, though they may also refer to this type of injury as peripheral neuropathy.
The peripheral nervous system includes the following components:
The cranial nerves run from your brain throughout your head, controlling the muscles responsible for forming facial expressions, chewing, swallowing, and moving your eyes and tongue. The cranial nerves also carry sense perceptions from your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin to the brain.
As your spinal cord runs through your spine, nerves branch off of it at each vertebra. These nerve roots, as they’re called, carry the collective nerve signals for specific regions of your body. A nerve root in your neck, for example, holds a bundle of nerves that runs to your left hand and fingers.
Peripheral nerves branch off from nerve roots and run to specific muscles, organs, and nerve endings in your skin. The nerve root connecting your left hand and fingers includes peripheral nerves for each muscle in your left thumb.
Nerve Damage Causes
Nerves carry signals by passing impulses from one nerve cell to another. The cells communicate using charged particles called ions.
When a nerve cell receives a signal, it moves ions to its surface through a channel in the cell. These ions change the nerve cell’s electrical charge. The next nerve cell detects this change in charge and moves ions to its surface, and this process continues down the length of the nerve.
Nerve cells need to be close in order to transmit signals to each other, so if a nerve gets stretched or cut, the chain of nerve cells becomes broken, and those signals will wind up weakened or lost altogether.
Another form of nerve damage occurs when something irritates a nerve and causes it to become inflamed. This inflammation causes the nerve cells to misfire, sending ions to their surfaces at random times.
Nerve damage can result from many forms of trauma, including:
When you suffer a laceration, the object can slice through your nerves. Lacerations can happen in almost any type of accident, including workplace accidents involving machinery or sharp tools. They can also occur in motorcycle accidents should you slide across broken glass.
A displaced fracture occurs when you break a bone, and those broken ends move out of alignment. A displaced fracture can stretch or tear nerves near the site of the injury. Broken bones can happen in slip and fall accidents, and these fractures can sometimes produce symptoms even after they heal due to underlying nerve damage.
A dislocated bone or other tissue can press on nerves. For example, a herniated or bulging disc has a protrusion that can pinch a nearby nerve root.
The body’s normal response to an injury is to trigger swelling, which protects the body from infection by reducing blood flow from the injury site. This traps any microorganisms near the injury so they cannot infect the body.
Swelling, however, can also squeeze nerves, and these compressed nerves can cause symptoms separate from those of the original injury.
Nerve Damage Effects
The nervous system carries three types of signals. Your symptoms will depend on the kind of signal disrupted by your injury.
Your body controls involuntary responses with autonomic signals. These signals regulate your heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, body temperature, digestion, and sexual arousal.
Nerve damage that disrupts autonomic signals can cause:
- Irregular breathing
- High or low blood pressure
- Inability to sweat
- Sexual dysfunction
Because these symptoms seem disconnected from your injury, you may not initially associate them with nerve damage.
Motor signals tell your muscles how to move. When nerve damage affects motor signals, you might experience the following:
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of dexterity
- Loss of coordination
In some cases, you can recover some of the lost functionality with physical therapy. Physical therapy can train the brain to use other nerves to control the areas with damaged nerves.
Sensory signals give your brain the information needed to control your body correctly. When your skin feels hot, your brain triggers your sweat glands. When your eyes see something falling toward you, your brain tells your legs to move you out of harm’s way.
Disruptions to sensory signals can produce:
- Impaired vision, hearing, smell, or taste
These symptoms often occur somewhere other than the injured area. A neck injury could produce symptoms in your fingers, hands, arms, or shoulders. Similarly, you might experience symptoms from a lower back injury in your hips, legs, feet, or toes.
Getting Compensation for Nerve Damage
You could seek compensation if someone else’s negligence caused your injuries. You can prove negligence by showing that someone failed to exercise reasonable care and as a result, caused your accident.
If you can prove negligence, you can seek compensation for your resulting economic and non-economic losses. Nerve damage can force you to change jobs or even cease working altogether. It can impair your ability to participate in necessary activities like driving, shopping, and exercising.
Contact a St. Louis Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
To discuss the compensation you can seek for these and other effects of nerve damage, contact Bradley Law Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation. Our Kansas City personal injury lawyers are standing by to take your call at (314) 400-0000.