Your nervous system controls your entire body, so when you suffer from nerve damage, you might experience symptoms ranging from weakness to numbness to even incontinence.
These symptoms can impact your ability to make a living and reduce your overall quality of life. You may lose the ability to participate in activities you enjoy or perform necessary daily tasks like driving.
Learn about traumatic nerve damage and how you can seek compensation for its effects.
What Is the Peripheral Nervous System?
Doctors divide the body’s nervous system into two parts. The central nervous system (CNS) includes your brain and spinal cord, handling the control and most of the communication of your nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system connects the central nervous system to the entire body and splits among two sets of nerves.
Cranial nerves run between your brain and throughout your head. These nerves carry sensory perceptions to your brain from your eyes, tongue, ears, nose, and facial nerve endings. They also carry motor signals to the muscles in your face and neck.
The spinal cord runs between your brain and your body. The spinal cord is part of the CNS, but the nerves that branch off from the spinal cord — known as nerve roots — are part of the peripheral nervous system.
Each nerve root carries nerve signals to and from a region of the body, further branching into peripheral nerves that connect to individual muscles, organs, and nerve endings in the skin. Thus, a nerve root that diverges to the left from the spinal cord in your lower back controls your left hip, leg, foot, and toes.
This makes the phrase “peripheral nervous system” somewhat confusing because the peripheral nervous system includes more than just the peripheral nerves.
It contains everything outside of the CNS, including:
- Cranial nerves
- Nerve roots
- Peripheral nerves
The term “nerve damage” usually refers to damage to the peripheral nervous system rather than the CNS. Doctors also use the phrase “neuropathy” to refer to peripheral nerve damage.
What Can Cause Peripheral Nerve Damage?
Nerves are made of neurons, which carry and pass nerve signals to each other using a combination of chemical and electrical signals. When a nerve detects a change in the electrical charge of an adjacent neuron, it moves charged particles to its surface through a channel in the cell. This changes the neuron’s charge, causing the next neuron to change its charge, and so on down the nerve.
When nerves get severed, they cannot carry nerve signals. If they get stretched, a nerve signal might weaken as it travels down the nerve, or the nerves might send errant nerve signals.
Traumatic nerve damage can result from many types of injuries, including:
A laceration, particularly a deep skin tear, can sever nerves, leaving the nerve signals unable to jump the gap. This injury is analogous to cutting an electrical wire. A laceration can happen in any accident, from a car crash to a workplace accident.
Traction on the nerves stretches them. A stretched nerve can occur when a body part gets hyperextended due to an accident, assault, or medical malpractice.
For example, Erb’s palsy happens when a doctor pulls too hard on a baby’s arm during birth. The nerves in the infant’s brachial plexus get stretched, causing nerve damage that can affect the baby’s entire arm.
A chemical, thermal, or radiation burn can destroy nerve endings in the skin. As a result, the nerve endings will not detect sensations.
Some medications damage nerves. Some local anesthetics, for example, work by blocking the channel that neurons use to move charged particles to their surfaces. If administered incorrectly, these anesthetics can permanently close those channels.
A compressed nerve, also called a pinched nerve, is one of the most common forms of nerve damage. This often happens when nearby tissues get injured.
A herniated disc can press on the nerve roots that branch from the spinal cord. Swelling from an injured hip can pinch nerves that run to the feet and toes. A dislocated or fractured bone can press on nearby nerves as well.
When something presses on a nerve, the nerve gets irritated and inflamed. The inflamed nerve can then misfire or drop signals.
What Are Some Symptoms of Peripheral Nerve Damage?
Peripheral nerve damage can cause many symptoms depending on the type of nerve signal disrupted.
The brain uses autonomic signals to control your body’s involuntary processes.
An injury to autonomic nerves can produce symptoms like:
- Breathing problems
- High or low blood pressure
- Inability to sweat
- Sexual dysfunction
Your waste system also uses a combination of autonomic and motor signals. If something disrupts the autonomic nerves, you might have difficulty controlling your bowel or bladder.
Motor signals control your muscles.
Symptoms of motor nerve damage include:
- Drooping muscles
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of fine motor control
Since these symptoms result from nerve damage, the symptoms might appear in an uninjured body part. Thus, you might suffer paralysis and drooping facial features from a damaged cranial nerve even though a traumatic injury did not harm your face.
Your senses collect information about the world so your brain can control your body.
Damage to the nerves carrying signals from your sensory organs to your brain can cause:
- Numbness or tingling
- Loss of sensitivity to temperature or pressure
- Buzzing or burning sensations
- Loss of vision, hearing, smell, or taste
Nerve injuries often cause symptoms to radiate to areas below the immediate site of the injury. A herniated disc in your neck could disrupt your shoulders and arms, while a herniated disc in your lower back could affect your hips and legs.
How Can You Get Compensated for Peripheral Nerve Damage?
You might be able to receive compensation for your nerve injury if you can prove that it resulted from someone else’s negligence. If you prove negligence, you could obtain compensation to cover your medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses. Nerve damage can affect your ability to perform daily activities, work, or even sleep. To discuss your nerve damage and the compensation you can seek for its effects, contact us at the Law Offices of Mathys & Schneid for a free consultation or call us at (630) 428-4040.