Doctors frequently can’t treat damaged nerves. As a result, many accident victims feel the effects of nerve damage for the rest of their lives.
In some cases, the symptoms of nerve damage cause inconvenience and erode an accident victim’s quality of life. In others, nerve injuries cause a profound loss of sensation or movement, resulting in permanent disabilities that prevent the injured person from working or meeting their daily needs.
How Does Your Nervous System Work?
Your brain is the control center for your body. It sends signals that control your muscles and organs. Some of these control signals occur in response to a conscious decision. For example, your brain generates and sends a signal to your hand to pick up a pencil when you decide to write a note.
Other control signals occur automatically. Thus, you don’t need to make a conscious decision to cause your heart to beat or your lungs to breathe.
Some actions use a combination of automatic and voluntary signals. You can control urination voluntarily, but your brain can also empty your bladder automatically in response to something frightening or dangerous.
These signals travel from your brain to your body along pathways called nerves. Nerve cells work together to carry signals. Nerve cells release or receive neurotransmitters and, in response, generate the appropriate signal.
The cell passes the signal along by moving charged particles called ions to its surface. The adjacent cell detects this charge and moves its ions to its surface, creating a wave-like effect. This process repeats until the signal reaches its destination.
Doctors divide the nervous system into the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system. The CNS includes your brain and spinal cord. It creates all signals and carries them between the brain and the body.
The peripheral nervous system includes all the nerves that connect your CNS to your body. When doctors talk about nerve damage, they typically mean an injury to the peripheral nervous system, also called peripheral neuropathy.
The peripheral nervous system includes:
The cranial nerves connect the brain to the head and face.
These nerves are responsible for:
- Facial expressions
- Chewing and swallowing
- Vision, hearing, taste, and smell
One cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, connects your brain to your heart and lungs to control your heartbeat and breathing.
Nerve roots branch from the spinal cord to carry signals to a body region like your arm, hip, or leg. Since nerve roots branch from your spinal cord, you can imagine them like the thick branches that connect to a tree trunk.
The nerve roots branch into peripheral nerves that run to individual muscles and organs. They also have nerve endings that allow your skin to detect the hardness, temperature, and texture of the objects you touch.
What Commonly Causes Nerve Damage?
Nerves aren’t necessarily fragile. At the same time, however, certain types of injuries can easily damage nerves. Some actions that can damage your nerves include:
Compression happens when something presses on the nerves of the peripheral nervous system. For example, a car accident can damage the discs between your vertebrae. When the discs rupture or collapse, they form a protrusion that presses on nearby nerve roots.
The compression irritates the nerves. Irritation causes inflammation which, in turn, causes the nerves to misfire.
Doctors can treat the misfiring nerves by relieving the compression or using anti-inflammatory drugs like steroids to reduce the inflammation.
Traction happens when nerves get stretched. Traction can occur as a result of virtually any accident. You might try to catch yourself during a slip and fall accident and hyperextend your elbow. When you hyperextend the joint, you might also stretch the nerves leading to your hand and fingers.
Stretched nerves can’t carry signals correctly because the cells become damaged and separated. Doctors can sometimes replace a damaged nerve with a nerve graft. If they can’t repair it, it won’t heal on its own, and you’ll experience lifelong symptoms.
Lacerations occur when a nerve gets severed. A severed nerve can happen in any accident involving sharp objects. For example, you could lacerate nerves in your hand in a workplace accident when a machine closes on your finger and slices it to the bone.
A severed nerve can’t carry any sensory or motor signals. As a result, you’ll experience some paralysis and loss of sensation. However, other nerves can pick up some of the lost functions, and your brain can rewire itself to use other nerves to cover for the lost nerves in a process called neuroplasticity.
Lacerated nerves cannot heal. Sometimes, doctors can graft a donor nerve to reconnect the lacerated nerve. But in many cases, accident victims must simply live with the symptoms of a lacerated nerve for the rest of their lives.
What Are the Symptoms of Nerve Damage?
Nerve damage can produce a wide variety of symptoms depending on the location and severity of the injury. The symptoms will also depend on the type of signals that are disrupted.
When a nerve injury disrupts autonomic signals, you may experience:
- Irregular heartbeat
- High or low blood pressure
- Inability to sweat
- Sexual dysfunction
These symptoms happen because your brain can’t control your organs the way it did before your nerve injury.
When your nerve damage affects motor signals, you may suffer from:
- Loss of dexterity
- Muscle spasms
These symptoms may range from mildly inconvenient to disabling.
Sensory signals tell your brain about your body.
Sensory disruptions can cause:
- Loss of vision, hearing, smell, or taste
- Loss of balance
- Buzzing or other strange sensations
- Pain, particularly from uninjured body parts
A disruption to sensory signals might cause a condition called restless leg syndrome. Some accident victims with this condition report the urge to constantly move their legs to relieve the strange sensations they feel or wake up a leg that feels like it’s fallen asleep.
How Can You Get Compensation for Nerve Damage?
Since nerve damage often causes permanent loss of functions, you may be entitled to seek substantial financial compensation. You can pursue a personal injury claim by showing that someone else’s intentional or negligent actions resulted in damage to your nerves.