The nervous system is composed of billions of neurons that connect the brain to every part of the body. It is often compared to electrical wiring, which carries signals and messages throughout a system. Nerve endings receive information from the outside world, like heat, pain, and pressure, and transmit those signals to the brain, which can then send commands to muscles to move in response.
Inside a single nerve, the neurons are organized in bundles of fibers or “axons” which are protected and insulated by individual layers of tissue. This entire organization is referred to as a nerve, which is then additionally protected by an outer layer, or sheath. There are three different types of nerves in the system, including the autonomic nerves which control involuntary activities such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and temperature, the motor nerves, which control muscle movement, and the sensory nerves, which take in sense information and relay it to the brain. Damage to each kind of nerve can produce different symptoms and sensations.
Causes and Symptoms
Nerve injuries can occur in most traumatic incidents but generally, fall into two categories. Nerves are somewhat flexible and can be stretched to a certain point, but overstretching or prolonged pressure can cause trauma and potentially tear the fibers within the nerve. Even if the sheath surrounding the nerve remains intact, there may be damage to the underlying axons. Stretched nerves often occur in tandem with fractures, strains, or sprains of muscles and joints sustained in trauma. Carpal tunnel syndrome is an example of nerve damage from prolonged pressure.
Alternatively, sometimes nerves can be severed, including the outer sheath. Injuries like this usually come from trauma such as knife or stab wounds, punctures from machinery in automobile or work accidents, or glass injuries. Although more rare, nerves can also be damaged from extreme heat or cold, electrical shocks, or chemical burns.
Since there are three kinds of nerves, there are three kinds of symptoms that victims of a nerve injury may experience. It is not entirely uncommon for people to damage multiple categories of nerves simultaneously and therefore exhibit multiple overlapping kinds of symptoms.
- Symptoms of autonomic nerve injury include the inability to regulate usually involuntary behavior such as sweat production, bladder, or bowel. Victims may also experience dry eyes and mouth, sexual dysfunction, or lightheadedness.
- Symptoms of motor nerve injury affect the victim's ability to control muscle movement. They often feel locational weakness or paralysis, and their muscles may atrophy (waste away) or twitch uncontrollably.
- Symptoms of sensory nerve injury often involve unpleasant sensations that are not coming from an environmental stimulus. This may include pain, numbness, burning, tingling, prickling, or general sensitivity, along with a decreased ability to sense the position of one's body.
Diagnosis and Treatment
In order to diagnose the severity of the injury, a doctor may order images in the form of MRI or CT scans, and could administer an electrical conduction test to measure the amount of current that is able to pass successfully through the nerve.
Nerve damage is usually diagnosed on a scale from first degree to sixth degree. First-degree damage, also known as neurapraxia, will heal completely and on its own within a few days to a few months. Second-degree damage will also heal but will take longer to do so. Third and fourth-degree damage entails more extensive recovery time and lasting nerve damage, with fourth-degree damage often requiring surgery. In fifth and sixth-degree injuries, a nerve is completely cut or severed and must be surgically reattached.
Nerve injuries are treated differently depending on their severity. Often, the first step in treatment is waiting to see if the nerve can heal itself. The injured nerve will attempt to repair itself by sprouting new nerves, but the new growths must connect to muscles and skin correctly in order for movement and feeling to return. For stretched nerve injuries in particular, the spontaneous recovery rate is between 65 percent to 85 percent. For patients who have spontaneous recovery, the majority or recovery occurs within four months of the injury.
To increase the chance of successful recovery, a doctor may recommend supportive care such as physical therapy to keep the joints and muscles mobile even if they cannot move independently. Physical therapy can also help “re-educate” the brain to communicate with certain parts of the body. In addition, possible treatments to increase nerve function include acupuncture, medications, massage therapy, and weight-loss management.
In extreme cases of nerve injury, or if the nerve has failed to repair itself within a specified period of time, a physician may perform surgery to repair the nerve. If the nerve is severed, surgery may be required. In some cases, the two pieces of nerve can be sewn together, but in others, a “nerve graft” may be required. In a nerve graft procedure, the doctor takes a section of non-critical sensory nerve from another part of the patient's body and uses it to bridge the gap between the severed nerve.
Personal Injury Lawsuits Involving Nerve Damage
Nerve damage can be both physically and emotionally debilitating because it changes a person's relationship to their own body and can cause a lifetime of pain and decreased mobility. Additionally, nerve damage can require a lifetime of continued care, therapy, and treatment, not to mention a reduced ability to perform in the workplace. Almost all jobs require some level of physicality from construction work to office jobs, and lowered mobility may reduce a victim's future earning capacity.
A lawsuit that involves nerve damage often includes other injuries which caused the damage, such as an auto accident, dog bite, slip and fall, assault, or surgical error. It is important to include claims for pain and suffering and future medical care associated with the nerve damage. Expert witnesses, medical records, and images of the injured area can help support your case.
Contact a Denver Nerve Damage Attorney
An attorney experienced in fighting for compensation for nerve damage victims can greatly increase the chance for a positive outcome and will work to maximize your potential award. Although nothing can truly compensate you for the difficulties of sustaining life-altering injuries, financial support can give you the peace of mind you need in order to deal with the mental and physical effects of an ongoing affliction. At the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, we know how devastating injuries can be and we will explore every possible avenue for getting you the compensation you deserve. Call us today at 303.825.2223 for a free consultation on your case or contact us online.