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Nerve Injuries

Nerves allow the brain to communicate with the rest of the body, similar to a phone line. Different nerves carry different messages. When one or more of the nerves is damaged, it can interrupt the communication between the body and the brain. This can cause an area of the body to lose feeling or not work properly. If left untreated, nerve damage can cause lost feeling or movement of the hand.

  • Types

    • Carpal tunnel syndrome
    • Cubital tunnel syndrome
    • Diabetic neuropathy, which can affect the hands as well as the feet
    • Erb’s Palsy
    • Peripheral neuropathy
    • Radial nerve damage
    • Ulnar nerve damage
  • Symptoms

    • Burning
    • Decreased sensation
    • Numbness
    • Pain
    • Tingling or “pins and needles”
    • Weakness

    Depending on the severity of the nerve injury, patients may not feel their symptoms all of the time.

  • Prevention

    • Avoid repetitive motions, which can cause stress on the nerves.
    • When performing repetitive tasks, take breaks to stretch the hands and wrists to avoid injury.
    • Patients with diabetes should maintain good control of their blood sugar levels to avoid diabetic or peripheral neuropathy.
    • Patients who do not have diabetes should eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly to decrease their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • Risk factors

    • Playing a sport or having a hobby that requires these types of movements, such as gardening • Some vitamin deficiencies can lead to neuropathy.
    • Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes may lead to peripheral or diabetic neuropathy, especially if blood sugar levels remain too high.
    • Working a job that requires frequent, repetitive motions, such as typing or working an assembly line
  • Diagnosis

    • Medical history and symptom review. Patients will discuss their symptoms with the healthcare provider while being as detailed as possible. Details about when and how often symptoms are experienced, how long the symptoms last and the amount of discomfort or pain patients feel us particularly helpful.
    • Physical examination. Depending on the nerve injury, the healthcare provider may test the patient’s reflexes. He or she may also test for hand sensation, or ability to feel things, with a pin.
    • Diagnostic testing. The healthcare provider may recommend further diagnostic testing to understand the nerve injury and to provide patients with the best treatment. He or she may recommend blood tests or electrodiagnostic testing to measure the nerves’ electrical activity.
  • Treatment

    • Mild nerve injuries can often repair on their own. This process may take a few weeks, but some mild injuries can heal in minutes.
    • Conservative treatment options include splinting, pain medications, physical or occupational therapy, or corticosteroid injections.
    • Surgery may be performed to relieve pressure or to sew damaged nerves back together, if necessary.
  • Follow-up care

    • If surgery is necessary, the patient’s nerve fibers will grow back together, ideally growing one inch per month. Full recovery may take several months.
    • Patients may still feel “pins and needles,” numbness or pain during their recovery.
    • Patients may require physical therapy.
    • The brain may have to relearn the connection between the healed nerve and the brain.