Peripheral nerves send messages from brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, helping to do things such as sensing that feet are cold and moving the muscles so that can walk. Made of fibers called axons that are insulated by surrounding tissues, peripheral nerves are fragile and easily damaged.
A nerve injury can affect brain’s ability to communicate with muscles and organs. Damage to the peripheral nerves is called peripheral neuropathy.
With a peripheral nerve injury, may experience symptoms that range from mild to seriously limiting daily activities. Symptoms often depend on which nerve fibers are affected:
- Motor nerves. These nerves regulate all the muscles under conscious control, such as walking, talking, and holding objects. Damage to these nerves is typically associated with muscle weakness, painful cramps and uncontrollable muscle twitching.
- Sensory nerves. Because these nerves relay information about touch, temperature and pain, you may experience a variety of symptoms. These include numbness or tingling in hands or feet, may have trouble sensing pain or changes in temperature, walking, keeping your balance with your eyes closed or fastening buttons.
- Autonomic nerves. This group of nerves regulates activities that are not controlled consciously, such as breathing, heart and thyroid function, and digesting food. Symptoms may include excessive sweating, changes in blood pressure, the inability to tolerate heat and gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Injury from an accident, a fall or sports can stretch, compress, crush or cut nerves.
- Medical conditions, such as diabetes, Guillain-Barre syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Autoimmune diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
- Other causes include narrowing of the arteries, hormonal imbalances and tumors.
A number of treatments can help restore function to the affected muscles.
- Braces or splints. These devices keep the affected limb, fingers, hand or foot in the proper position to improve muscle function.
- Electrical stimulator. Stimulators can activate muscle served by an injured nerve while the nerve regrows.
- Manual Therapy. Therapy involves specific movements or exercises to keep your affected muscles and joints active. That can prevent stiffness and help restore function and feeling.
- Exercise. Exercise can help improve your muscle strength, maintain your range of motion and reduce muscle cramps.