Nerve damage can occur for many reasons, and because there are so many types of nerves in the body, the symptoms can vary greatly. Some signs of nerve damage, like difficulty moving or numbness and tingling, may seem obvious, but others, like urinary incontinence or increased clumsiness, may not. There are many causes of nerve damage, and some can be more serious than others. Identifying the symptoms can help your doctor determine what is causing the problem, leading to an earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Feelings of numbness, tingling, or burning in the arms, hands, legs, or feet, known as paresthesia, can happen for multiple reasons. Many people have experienced temporary paresthesia from sitting with their legs crossed for too long or falling asleep on their arm, but chronic paresthesia can be a symptom of an underlying disorder or injury chronic paresthesia can be a symptom of an underlying disorder or injury affecting the nerves. Some things that can cause paresthesia include stroke, mini-strokes, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis, or transverse myelitis.
If you have pain in one arm or leg, you might be experiencing nerve damage. For example, if you have pain from the lower back extending down one leg, you may have sciatica, a problem with the sciatic nerve which controls the muscles in the back of your knee and provides feeling in the back of your leg, part of your lower leg, and the bottom of your foot. A pinched nerve in the neck can cause pain, weakness, or numbness in the affected arm can cause pain, weakness, or numbness in the affected arm, as can ulnar nerve entrapment, a brachial plexus injury, and any other condition that affects the nerves one side of the body.
Nerve injury can manifest as loss of sensory function, so you may not be able to feel when that part of your body experiences an injury, like a cut, abrasion, or blister. These unnoticed injuries may worsen and cause significant health problems. A good example of this is diabetic foot ulcers that result from the person being unable to feel injuries to the foot. Diabetic foot ulcers are among the most common complications for people with type 2 diabetes and can lead to significant health issues, including osteomyelitis and amputation.
Nerve damage may cause difficulties in moving parts of your body. For example, common peroneal nerve dysfunction is a type of peripheral neuropathy that involves damage to a single nerve, the peroneal nerve, which supplies sensation to the leg and foot. People with this condition may experience foot drop, a slapping gait, weakness in the ankles and feet, or toes dragging when they walk.
Depending on the affected nerve, falling, stumbling, or dropping things more frequently can be signs of nerve damage. One example of this is carpal tunnel syndrome, which can cause numbness and tingling in the hands that can lead to someone dropping things more frequently. Damage to large nerve fibers, which control our movements, can also increase clumsiness. Large nerve fibers mediate multiple functions, including proprioception, which is our sense of body position, self-movement, and force. If proprioception is affected, someone with nerve damage may bump into things, trip, or drop items more often.
Autonomic nerves carry information from the brain and spinal cord to various body parts, including the heart, blood vessels, intestines, pupils, and sweat glands. When these nerves are damaged, it can affect the body in many ways, one of which is an inability to tolerate heat. Autonomic neuropathy can result from many conditions, including alcohol abuse, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, Parkinson disease, or surgery or injury involving the nerves.
Nerve damage can also lead to urinary incontinence. Nerves carry messages from the brain to the bladder, which tells the bladder to release urine, and the bladder to the brain to let the brain know when the bladder is full. Incontinence can occur [citation href="https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-problems/symptoms-causes" title="National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases" desc="Symptoms & Causes of Bladder Control Problems (Urinary Incontinence) "]when something interferes with these messages. The nerves that carry the signals to and from the brain and the bladder may be damaged by many things, including surgery, vaginal childbirth, stroke, brain or spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis.
Research shows that neurological disorders may affect the gastrointestinal system, leading to dysmotility. Some of these symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, incontinence, difficulty swallowing, or delayed gastric emptying. These issues can be caused by multiple conditions related to nerve damage, including stroke, dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS, brain or spinal cord injury, and conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system, like myasthenia gravis or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.
A condition called occipital neuralgia occurs when the occipital nerves that run through the scalp are injured or inflamed. It can result from many things, including pinched nerves, a head or neck injury, osteoarthritis, gout, or infection. Symptoms of occipital neuralgia can include a continuous throbbing, aching, or burning headache with intermittent shocks or shooting pain starting at the base of the head and running along the scalp. People with this condition may also have pain behind the eye on the affected side of the head, and pain can be triggered by something as light as hair brushing against the neck.
Damage to the autonomic nerves can affect your sweat glands, causing you to sweat either too much or not enough. You may sweat a lot during certain activities, like sleeping or eating, or some parts of your body may sweat while others remain dry. If your body cannot sweat properly, it may have trouble regulating your temperature, leading to more complications.
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