How Do I Know If I Have Nerve Damage?
Damaged nerves can lead to various symptoms. To find out, conclusively, if your nerves are damaged, you need to see a neurologist. He or she will perform tests to determine the health of your muscles and nerves. If there is a problem, the doctor will explain the reason for the damage and its extent. They will follow up by devising a treatment plan.
To understand better how nerves become damaged, you have to define them first. Nerves represent fiber bundles that are comfortably housed in a covering that can be likened to the insulation that holds electric wires and cabling. The “wiring” transmits messages to the brain and spinal column before it travels to other parts of the body. The route taken is cyclical because the messages travel from the body and back, again, to the brain and along the spine.
Injuries - The Main Cause for Nerve Damage
When you injure a part of the body surrounded by nerves, you can damage the nerves as well. In return, you may experience sensations of tingling, numbness, or burning. Some people feel weakness in a spot that has sustained nerve damage.
If nerves become damaged, the damage may resolve on its own or you may have to undergo therapy. It just depends on the reason for the damage and, again, how much the nerves have been injured.
The Anatomy of the Nerve
To learn how damage progresses, it helps to see how a nerve is designed, as it features several layers and parts. For example, you have the nerve itself, which is made up, first, of an epineurium covering, which holds the entire bundle of nerve fibers, followed by a perineurium, which covers each fiber bundle. Each nerve fiber is made up of an endoneurium, myelin sheath, and axon.
In the first stage of damage, the axon and myelin sheath first sustain damage, followed by the endoneurium. As the damage progresses, it affects the fascicle, which represents the whole bundle of nerve fibers, including the perineurium. If the nerve is completely damaged, it extends to all the parts, including the epineurium.
The CNS and PNS and Their Role in Nervous System Functioning
The body features two nervous systems - the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). While the CNS is made up of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, the peripheral nervous system covers the nerves extending from the CNS, which travel to other parts of the body. These parts include the face, hands, face, arms, legs, feet, and stomach. When nerve damage occurs, it usually is found in the PNS.
The Somatic and Autonomic Nervous Systems
To break things down even further, the PNS also features a somatic nervous system, which features nerves that respond voluntarily, and an autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary movements. Therefore, the somatic nervous system represents the movement of nerves you consciously control while the autonomic nervous system covers nerves that function unconsciously.
The Motor Nerves
The motor nerves, part of the somatic nervous system, transmit signals coming from the brain to the spinal column and to the rest of the body. These nerves are used to regulate movement.
The Sensory Nerves
The sensory nerves, also a part of the somatic nervous system, are called afferent nerves. They deliver signals to the brain and spinal cord from the other parts of the body.
The Autonomic Nerves
Again, autonomic nerves are made to control body functions that happen without our intervention, such as the heartbeat, digestion, or blood pressure.
Symptoms Related to Damaged Nerves
If you have sustained peripheral damage to your nerves, you may experience the following:
- A burning sensation
- A prickly feeling
- Sensitivity in the area
A severe injury can lead to a total loss of movement or muscle atrophy. This is especially true if a patient experiences chronic pain that is ongoing.
The Healing Time
How long it takes a damaged nerve to heal depends on the injury and degree of severity. Milder injuries may heal within days or weeks while serious nerve injuries may take several years to heal. Just like other health conditions, nerve damage may be classified as first-degree, second-degree, third-degree, etc.
The nerves damaged the most--the peripheral nerves--comprise many axons. These axons can be compared to thin wires that carry electrical transmissions to and from the body and brain. Connective tissues, such as the myelin sheath, provide insulation and protection.
Reasons for Damage
In some instances, damage to the nerves develop due to compression (crossing the legs for too long or sitting or standing, hunching over something). This more subtle form of damage often heals fairly quickly, given its temporary nature.
You can damage your nerves as well if you experience any of the following events:
- You sever a nerve tissue
- You bruise a nerve
- You stretch and injure yourself
- You get a chemical or electrical burn
- You sustain a gunshot wound
- You inflame or irritate a nerve
If you continue to experience recurring symptoms, such as tingling and numbness, you cannot overlook the importance of seeking medical help.
If you find this to be the case, you will need to discuss your condition with a neurologist. He or she will perform tests to see how well your nerves deliver electrical impulses. Usually, in this case the doctor will request an electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity test (NCV). Both tests will help him or her determine the amount of damage and the cause.
Degrees of Injury
Besides these tests, the doctor may schedule other tests to rate the degree of nerve damage. For example, first degree nerve damage is known as neuropraxia. This degree of damage is very mild and covers injury to the myelin, which temporarily stops the nerve from transmitting electrical signals. An example of a first-degree injury is when your foot “falls asleep.”
Second degree nerve damage covers damage to the axon, although the protective layer of the endoneurium around the axon remains intact. You may or may not recover without surgery.
Third degree nerve damage includes both the axon and endoneurium.
Fourth degree injuries cover damage to nerve axons and all the surrounding protective coverings. This form of nerve damage requires surgical repair.
Fifth degree damage of the nerve happens when a nerve is split in two.
Do You Believe You Have Damaged Your Nerve?
If you feel you have damaged your nerve, see a neurologist to find out the extent of the damage and to inquire about care. Nerve injuries may develop from recent activities or evolve over time. If you have ongoing pain, tingling, or numbness, contact your doctor and find out more about neurological testing and care.