Peripheral nerve injury

Peripheral nerves are the nerves that extend beyond the spinal cord to every other part of the body. They send impulses from the brain and spinal cord to our various organs and tissues and relay information back to the central nervous system in a complex interplay that enables us to function. Damage to peripheral nerves interferes with this communication process and can cause a wide range of problems.

Peripheral nerves are vulnerable to injury by many means. Diabetes and traumatic or repetitive strain injury are among the most common causes of peripheral nerve damage. Infections, autoimmune disorders, exposure to toxins, nutritional deficiencies, and hereditary conditions are among myriad other causes of neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathies can affect motor neurons (which control intentional muscle movement), sensory neurons (which provide feedback to the brain from the muscles), and autonomic neurons (which control the muscles required for breathing, swallowing and other autonomic functions). Motor-nerve damage can lead to many mobility-limiting problems with the muscles, such as painful cramping, involuntary twitching, weakness, wasting, and complete or partial paralysis. Damage to sensory neurons can also affect mobility, due to sensations of numbness or pain and the loss of balance and sense of position. Such damage makes it difficult to coordinate the movements required to walk, get dressed, and perform other activities of daily living.

Some forms of peripheral nerve damaged can be managed with medication and/or physical therapy; others cannot. Approaches to treatment and research vary widely depending on the cause and type of damage. Mobility Project researchers are working on a novel strategy to restore hand movement in people with certain peripheral nerve injuries.

The Canadian Neuropathy Association advocates for people who are living with some form of neuropathy. It provides information for patients and families, organizes support groups, and raises funds for research and programs.