Nerve damage can produce different symptoms depending on the severity and location of the injury. These symptoms can range from bothersome to disabling. They can diminish your quality of life and prevent you from working or caring for yourself.
You can often seek significant compensation for nerve damage suffered in an accident. Nerve tissue does not regrow on its own, and doctors can only graft larger nerves. As a result, nerve damage tends to produce permanent symptoms.
What Is the Structure of the Nervous System?
Your nervous system controls your body. Without your nervous system, you would not think, move, or sense. Even the organs essential to life, like your heart and lungs, require nerve signals from your brain to keep functioning.
The nervous system has two parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system. The CNS includes the brain and spinal cord. The brain controls the nervous system, and the spinal cord carries the signals from the brain to the body below the neck.
The peripheral nervous system includes all the nerves that connect to the CNS. The term “nerve damage” usually refers to a peripheral nerve injury. Doctors also refer to these injuries as “peripheral neuropathy.”
The primary parts of the peripheral nervous system include:
The spinal cord runs through the spine. At each vertebra, the nerves of the spinal cord branch into a pair of nerve roots. You have 31 total nerve roots. One pair of nerve roots is above and below each of your 24 vertebrae, equaling 25 total spinal nerve roots. Six additional nerve roots exist at the sacrum and coccyx.
Each nerve root carries all the nerve signals for an area of your body. For example, all the sensory and motor signals for your left foot pass through a single nerve root.
The nerve roots branch into peripheral nerves. These nerves connect to specific muscles, organs, and nerve endings in the skin. The nerve endings in the skin pick up touch perceptions such as texture, temperature, and pressure. The nerves in the muscles and organs control their operation.
Cranial nerves connect your brain to your head and face. These nerves include the optic nerve that connects to your eyes and the auditory nerve connected to your ears. The cranial nerves also control facial expressions as well as chewing and swallowing.
How Can Nerve Damage Happen?
Nerve signals travel from neuron to neuron along a nerve. The neuron at the nerve ending generates a signal when it senses a neurotransmitter. It moves charged molecules called ions to its surface through ion channels.
The next neuron in the nerve senses the change in electrical charge and moves its ions to its surface. This continues down the line, with the signal passing from neuron to neuron until it reaches the other end of the nerve.
When the nerve gets damaged, the neurons can drop signals or produce false signals. Nerve damage can happen in many ways, including:
When a nerve gets severed, nerve signals cannot jump the gap. You can think of this like a wire getting cut. The electrical signal gets lost, preventing sensory signals from reaching the brain and control signals from reaching the body. As a result, a severed nerve can induce paralysis.
Lacerations result from penetrating trauma. You could sever a nerve in a construction accident involving a sharp object like a tool blade.
Nerves do not regrow on their own. Doctors can repair lacerated nerves by grafting a donor nerve across the gap. But as a practical matter, doctors cannot graft every nerve. So a serious injury that affects many nerves can produce irreparable nerve damage.
Traction indicates that a nerve got stretched. A stretched nerve can drop nerve signals or misfire. The misfiring nerve cells can interfere with the brain’s ability to control the body. It can also give the brain erroneous sensory information.
Traction can happen anytime your body gets hyperextended. For example, medical malpractice can produce nerve damage when a doctor pulls too hard on a baby during delivery. This condition, called Erb’s palsy, results from the traction of the brachial plexus nerve bundle.
Compression happens when nerves get pinched.
Nerve compression can happen when:
- Bones break
- Joints dislocate
- Soft tissue swells
Compressed nerves become irritated and inflamed, and nerve inflammation can cause nerve cells to misfire.
What Are the Symptoms of Nerve Damage?
The symptoms of nerve damage depend on the type of nerve signals that get disrupted. Nerves produce three types of signals:
Sensory signals carry information about your surroundings from the sense organs to the brain.
Damage to sensory nerves may cause:
Damage to sensory signals can produce symptoms in areas remote to your injury. For example, you might experience pain and other symptoms in your uninjured hands as a result of a neck injury.
Motor signals control the movement of your body.
When motor nerves get damaged, you can experience:
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of dexterity
- Limited range of motion
Disruption of your motor signals can lead to musculoskeletal system problems. If nerve damage causes you to limp due to muscle weakness and paralysis, you could develop hip problems due to the imbalance of your motion.
Autonomic signals control your organs.
When you damage autonomic nerves, you can suffer from:
- Heart arrhythmia
- Low or high blood pressure
- Excess sweating or an inability to sweat
You and your doctor might not connect these symptoms to nerve damage.
How Can You Recover Compensation for Nerve Damage?
You can pursue compensation for nerve damage after an accident. If your nerve damage happens in a work-related accident, you might be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. You do not need to prove fault. Instead, you only need to prove that the injury happened in the course and scope of your employment.
If your accident did not happen at work, you can still pursue compensation by proving negligence.
Negligence happens when someone else’s failure to exercise reasonable care causes your injury. You could prove negligence if you suffered nerve damage when another driver ran a red light and caused a car accident.
Nerve damage often produces permanent symptoms. Coping with these symptoms can require extensive physical and occupational therapy. To learn about the compensation you can seek for nerve damage, contact Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation.