Peripheral nerves send messages from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. They help do things such as sense that the feet are cold and move the body's muscles for walking. Peripheral nerves are made of fibers called axons that are insulated by surrounding tissues.
Peripheral nerves are fragile and easily damaged. A nerve injury can affect the brain's ability to communicate with muscles and organs. Damage to the peripheral nerves is called peripheral neuropathy.
It's important to get medical care for a peripheral nerve injury as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment may prevent complications and permanent damage.
Products & Services
With a peripheral nerve injury, you may experience symptoms that range from mild to seriously limiting your daily activities. Your symptoms often depend on which nerve fibers are damaged:
- Motor nerves. These nerves regulate all the muscles under your conscious control, such as those used for walking, talking and holding objects. Damage to these nerves is typically associated with muscle weakness, painful cramps and uncontrollable muscle twitching.
- Sensory nerves. Because these nerves relay information about touch, temperature and pain, you may experience a variety of symptoms. These include numbness or tingling in the hands or feet. You may have trouble sensing pain or changes in temperature, walking, keeping your balance with your eyes closed, or fastening buttons.
- Autonomic (aw-tuh-NOM-ik) nerves. This group of nerves regulates activities that are not controlled consciously, such as breathing, heart and thyroid function, and digesting food. Symptoms may include excessive sweating, changes in blood pressure, the inability to tolerate heat and gastrointestinal symptoms.
You may experience a range of symptoms because many peripheral nerve injuries affect more than one type of nerve fiber.
When to see a doctor
If you experience weakness, tingling, numbness or a total loss of feeling in a limb, see your health care provider to determine the cause. It's important to treat peripheral nerve injuries early.
Peripheral nerves can be damaged in several ways:
- Injury from an accident, a fall or sports, which can stretch, compress, crush or cut nerves
- Medical conditions, such as diabetes, Guillain-Barre syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome
Other causes include narrowing of the arteries, hormonal imbalances and tumors.
Peripheral nerve injuries care at Mayo Clinic
May 10, 2022
- Peripheral neuropathy fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Peripheral-Neuropathy-Fact-Sheet. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Nerve injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00016. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Rutkove SB. Overview of upper extremity peripheral nerve syndromes. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Rutkove SB. Overview of lower extremity peripheral nerve syndromes. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- NINDS pinched nerve information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Pinched-Nerve-Information-Page#disorders-r1. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Azar FM, et al. Peripheral nerve injuries. In: Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 14th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Daroff RB, et al. Trauma of the nervous system: Peripheral nerve trauma. In: Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Neurological diagnostic tests and procedures fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/neurological-diagnostic-tests-and-procedures-fact. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Neligan PC. Peripheral nerve injuries of the upper extremity. In: Plastic Surgery. Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Pain: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Pain-Hope-Through-Research. Accessed Feb. 28, 2022.
- Brachial plexus injuries information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Brachial-Plexus-Injuries-Information-Page. Accessed Jan. 6, 2020.
Products & Services
Peripheral nerve injuries