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Injury Definitions

Nerve Injuries

Nerves are the electrical wiring system that carry messages from the brain to the rest of the body. A nerve is like an electrical cable wrapped in insulation. A ring of tissue forms a cover to protect the nerve, just like the insulation surrounding an electrical cable. Motor nerves carry messages from the brain to muscles to make the body move. Sensory nerves carry messages to the brain from different parts of the body to signal pain, pressure, and temperature.

Nerves are fragile and can be damaged by pressure, stretching, or cutting. Injury to a nerve can stop signals to and from the brain causing muscles not to work properly, and one may lose feeling in the injured area. When a nerve is cut, both the nerve and the insulation are broken. Pressure or stretching injuries can cause the fibers carrying the information to break and stop the nerve from working, without damaging the cover.

A physician can often diagnose a nerve injury by taking a detailed history or conducting a careful physical examination. Some nerve injuries can be objectively verified by an EMG (electromyogram), NCV (nerve conduction velocity test), and nerve blocks.

For an EMG, a needle electrode is inserted through the skin into the muscle. The presence, size and shape of the waveform provide information about the ability of the muscle to respond when the nerves are stimulated. An EMG can help demonstrate motor nerve involvement.

An NCV tests the speed of conduction of impulses through a nerve. The nerve is stimulated with surface electrodes. The resulting electrical activity is recorded by other electrodes. The distance between electrodes and the time it takes for electrical impulses to travel between electrodes are used to calculate the nerve conduction velocity. An NCV is helpful in demonstrating sensory nerve damage.

A nerve block is another tool in diagnosing nerve damage. An anesthetic is injected onto or near the nerve. The response a patient has to the nerve block can help identify the specific nerves that are causing pain. A nerve block with steroids can also be used as a treatment for certain types of nerve pain.

Generally, the goal in fixing a nerve is to save the cover so that new fibers may heal and work again. If there is a space between the ends of the nerve, the doctor may need to take a piece of nerve (nerve graft) from another part of the body to fix the injured nerve. This may cause permanent loss of feeling in the area where the nerve graft was taken.

Once the nerve cover is fixed, the nerve generally begins to heal three or four weeks after the injury. Nerves usually grow one inch every month depending on one’s age and other factors. This means that with an injury to a nerve in the arm above the fingertips, it may take up to a year before feeling returns to the fingertips.

Injuries to the spinal cord are often permanent and can cause paraplegia and quadriplegia.

For related information go to: Actions Against Common Carriers, Chronic Pain Syndrome, Dangerous Condition of Public Property, Dog Attacks, Elder Abuse, Footdrop, Intervertebral Disk Injuries, Insurance Bad Faith, Medical Malpractice, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Myofascial Pain, Negligence Law, Nursing Home NeglectPain, Paraplegia, Premises Liability, Products Liability, Quadriplegia and Radiculopathy.

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