In a car accident, nerve damage can occur in the brain, spine, and limbs as a result of trauma or lacerations. The nervous system is exceedingly complex and more fragile than many people realize. While you should always see a doctor after a crash, it is especially important to do so if you believe your symptoms are a sign of nerve damage.
Nerve damage can have a significant impact on your way of life and can be challenging to diagnose and treat. If you’re worried you’ve suffered nerve damage after a car crash, keep reading to learn how to tell and what to do to get the help and compensation you need.
What Is Nerve Damage?
Nerves let different areas of the body communicate with each other. They carry signals throughout the body and are essential to its proper functioning. Nerves can be damaged in a variety of ways, such as being bruised, compressed, torn, or crushed.
There are several types of nerve damage:
- Radiculopathy: injuries to the nerve roots that branch off your spine
- Peripheral neuropathy: damage to your peripheral nerves, which are outside of your brain and spinal cord, including the median and ulnar nerves in your arms
- Myelopathy: compression or damage to your spinal cord
If a nerve is bruised or otherwise minorly damaged, it may fully heal over time. However, torn or crushed nerves typically require medical treatment, and may only regain partial function.
How Do Car Crashes Cause Nerve Damage?
During a collision, many forces can cause nerve damage. A quick deceleration and blunt trauma can compress nerves. Debris can also cause deep lacerations that sever your nerves. However, neuropathy is sometimes slower to develop.
“Any time your nerves experience prolonged compression, they can be damaged. Car crashes can cause swelling, herniated discs, and other internal injuries that can press against your nerves. If you start experiencing numbness, tingling, shooting pain, or muscle weakness shortly after a car crash, seek immediate medical care and tell your doctors about the incident.“
Signs and Symptoms of Nerve Damage After a Car Crash
While nerve damage can happen anywhere in the body, we’re going to focus on the most common injury locations: the spine and arms. Signs of nerve damage can differ depending on where you suffered the injury, but typically include:
- Numbness and tingling
- Shooting or radiating pain
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased or lost reflexes
While some of these symptoms may resolve with treatment, nerve damage can be permanent.
Signs of Spinal Nerve Damage
You have 31 pairs of spinal roots that branch off your spinal cord, and each one communicates with a specific area of your body. When your spinal nerves are damaged, they can cause profound symptoms in your back and throughout your body.
- Numbness: A common sign of spinal nerve damage, numbness can occur along your spine, neck, or even run into other body parts.
- Shooting or radiating pain: Pain that runs down a leg, arm, or into your head is common with radiculopathy.
- Pain in uninjured body parts: Each of your spinal nerves sends messages to-and-from a different part of your body. When one is damaged, you may feel discomfort in the body part it serves. For example, L4-5 radiculopathy in your low back may cause hip pain.
- Foot drop and problems walking: Nerve damage in your low back can lead to muscle weakness and motor dysfunction in your legs and feet. In severe cases, you may notice a foot drop or changes in your gait.
- Severe headaches: Headaches are common after a crash and can be a sign of many serious conditions, including damage to nerves in your upper back or neck.
- Bladder and bowel control: Damage to nerves in your low back and tailbone can lead to bowel or bladder incontinence. If this happens, seek immediate emergency medical care.
- Sexual dysfunction: Injuries to nerves in your low back and sacrum can also cause serious sexual dysfunction.
Signs of Nerve Damage in the Arm
The main two nerves in the arm, the ulnar and median, run from the shoulder into the hand. Symptoms of damage to these nerves could include:
- Hand numbness: Since the nerves run the full length of your arm and into your hand, a laceration or other injury to your upper arm could cause a lack of sensation in your hand and fingers.
- Tingling or burning: A tingling or burning can occur in your hand or fingers as a side effect of nerve damage.
- Hand or wrist weakness: Nerve damage can cause hand weakness that worsens the more you use it.
- Decreased grip: Grip strength may also be affected by nerve damage, making it difficult or impossible to do simple tasks like eat with a fork or write with a pen.
If these symptoms are focused on your little finger and half of your ring finger, you likely have an injury to your ulnar nerve. Symptoms in the rest of your hand suggest a median neuropathy.
How Is Nerve Damage Diagnosed and Treated?
As we mentioned earlier, always see a doctor immediately after a car crash, even if you think your injuries are minor. A headache or wrist pain could be a sign of a serious issue that could worsen over time if untreated.
Diagnosing nerve damage typically involves:
- A neurological exam that checks reflexes, strength, sensations, and coordination
- Electromyography (EMG) nerve function tests that record electrical activity in the muscles
- Nerve conduction studies (NCS) that record how your muscles respond to stimuli
- MRI and CT scans to look for internal injuries, such as herniated discs
Depending on your condition and treatment, you may undergo multiple EMG, NCS, and other diagnostic tests.
Some nerve damage can be fixed or minimized by timely treatment, helping victims lead more active lifestyles. For median or ulnar neuropathy, your doctors may suggest a carpal or cubital tunnel release. If you have spinal nerve damage, you may undergo a discectomy, laminectomy, or injection therapy. While diagnosing nerve damage can be costly, invasive, and time-consuming, refusing to get medical help is not the answer.
Contact Crosley Law for Help Getting the Compensation You Need
Nerve damage can make everyday tasks difficult or even impossible and have a drastic impact on your life. At Crosley Law, our experienced car accident attorneys will fight to get you the compensation you need and deserve if a car crash caused you nerve damage.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.