Is Nerve Damage Permanent?

Nerve damage, or neuropathy, can sometimes be permanent even if the cause is treated or surgery was performed to repair a damaged nerve. 

Nerves carry signals and information between your brain and spinal cord and the rest of your body. They are made up of fibers called axons and are covered by fatty tissue which acts as insulation. If either the insulation or fibers are damaged, they are more likely to heal. 

In severe cases of nerve damage, both the insulation and fibers are damaged, and the nerve could be entirely cut. Nerve damage may be permanent in these cases.

What Is Nerve Damage?

Nerve damage causes tingling sensations along with numbness, burning, and other uncomfortable feelings that do not go away easily. Depending on the extent of the issue and which nerves are affected, the muscles around your nerves may weaken and eventually atrophy. 

Consequences can be even more severe if the nerves of your autonomic (involuntary) nervous system are involved. For example, if the nerves that control your bowel or bladder muscles are damaged it can cause serious medical problems. 

What Causes Nerve Damage?

Conditions that cause neuropathy are many and various. Nerve damage can happen during a surgical procedure or can be due to a medical condition. 

Surgical Incisions

Nerve damage can happen anytime an incision is made in the skin. Plastic surgeons, in particular, have to be aware of causing permanent nerve damage. When a surgeon stretches, cauterizes, or cuts the nerves on purpose or by mistake, injury can happen.  

Anesthesia Errors

When anesthesia is administered improperly nerve damage can result. Anesthesia is administered in one of three ways prior to a surgical procedure: locally, regionally, or generally.

  • Locally — Precautions should be taken to make sure the syringe used to administer local anesthesia does not strike a nerve.
  • Regionally — Regional anesthesia is usually injected into the body via the spinal column. Because the spinal column contains a large number of nerves sending signals to and from the brain, there is potential for severe nerve damage.
  • Generally — Pinched nerves or inflammation can happen under general anesthesia if the body is positioned poorly during a lengthy operation.

Other Conditions

Nerve damage can be caused by medical conditions including:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Bone marrow disorders
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic disease
  • Poor circulation to the legs
  • Tumors
  • Vitamin B1, B6, and B12 and other vitamin nutritional deficiencies 

Treating Nerve Damage

If the cause of your nerve damage is known, you may be able to treat it to improve your symptoms. Once the diseases and conditions causing neuropathy are eliminated or reduced, the nerves can heal and the symptoms should improve.

If your nerve was cut completely during a surgical procedure, you will probably experience permanent numbness and the inability to move the affected muscle. You may need more surgery to sew nerves back together to correct this issue. 

Because nerve tissue can sometimes be repaired, the Mayo Clinic recommends getting proper medical care for peripheral nerve injuries as soon as possible. Complications and permanent injury can be prevented if you receive an early diagnosis and treatment. 

Medical Malpractice and Nerve Damage

Nerve damage following surgery is often minor and will usually heal on its own. If, however, you’ve had surgery and experienced severe nerve damage and now have to live with permanent numbness, pain, or loss of muscle control you may have experienced medical negligence and may be entitled to significant compensation for damages.