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What Is Nerve Injury?

Nerves are responsible for transmitting signals that control many vital functions, including touch, pain,  and movement. They are cable-like structures that send and receive messages between the brain to the rest of the body. Sensory nerves transmit signals from the skin, muscles, and other organs and relay them to the brain, where they are received and interpreted. Motor nerves travel from the brain to the muscles to control purposeful movements. Consequently, when a nerve is damaged or cut, the affected area can experience a partial or total loss of function and/or feeling. Left untreated, this can result in a complete inability to perform simple tasks or work-related duties, particularly if the injured nerves control hand or wrist motion. Living with an injured nerve can be very debilitating and lead to a diminished quality of life, making it crucial to seek proper care from a reconstructive hand surgeon as soon as symptoms begin to arise.

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms of an injured nerve vary depending on the type of nerve that was damaged and the severity of the injury. However, in general, common signs of a nerve injury include:

These symptoms can be felt constantly, intermittently, or solely when stretching the nerve or performing certain actions. Nerve-related symptoms can be vague and are often difficult to put into words. Ultimately, symptoms differ by patient and we offer many treatments to address each individual’s unique condition.


A nerve injury can result whenever there is too much pressure placed on the nerve, or the nerve is stretched or cut. This trauma disrupts the messages that are sent from the brain and can impede motion, function, and sensation. The amount of function that is lost, as well as the expected recovery, depends on the degree of injury to the individual nerve fibers. Penetrating injuries with a saw, knife, or glass anywhere in the arm can result in a nerve injury. Motor vehicle or motorcycle accidents can result in severe stretching of the nerves, or complete cutting of a nerve associated with a broken bone or broken glass. Crushing injuries can result in temporary or permanent nerve loss from pressure. Evidence is mixed about the association between nerve injury or dysfunction and some work-related activities, such as typing or light office work. Heavy vibrational activities or repetitive, stressful motions can result in chronic nerve compression like carpal tunnel syndrome.


Some minor nerve damage will heal without intervention, but other more severe injuries—such as a cut nerve—typically require surgery. It is possible for damaged nerve fibers to regrow and allow for continued communication between the brain and body, but this process can take several months and will likely involve rehabilitative hand therapy or another form of supportive care.

When a nerve is completely severed, surgery from one of our reconstructive hand surgeons will be utilized to carefully sew the nerve endings back together using special magnification and fine hair-like sutures to allow for regrowth to the muscle or skin. Depending on the details of your injury, this can help the area regain function and sensation. Nerve injuries have a varied potential for recovery based on the location, severity, and age of the patient. Our expert hand surgeons will take the time to educate you on the details of your injury and formulate a plan that will maximize your potential for recovery.

Secondary Reconstruction

Sometimes, the function lost with complex nerve injuries must be repaired or replaced by other means in order to truly restore lost function and/or sensation in a given region. This may involve replacing the damaged nerve with nerves from a less critical part of the body. For example, “donor nerves” can come from the side of the foot or another area that is deemed non-essential. Secondary reconstruction of a nerve can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including:

In some cases, an injury to a sensory nerve can cause a painful knot of nerve tissue to form — this is called a neuroma. Surgery can also be utilized to remove the nerve tissue and provide relief for painful symptoms caused by a neuroma.

Nerve injuries are extremely complex and each case is different. The most beneficial approach to address your injury is typically chosen based on which technique offers the strongest chance of recovering function. Any surgery performed on the nerves is typically followed by a gradual recovery period while the damaged nerves regrow. Physical therapy after the operation can aid in the healing process and often helps individuals relearn new patterns of motion to minimize pressure on the treated nerve. While nerve injuries can be difficult to live with, our experienced hand surgeons can provide you with the necessary care to repair your injury and enhance your overall quality of life.

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