Nerve damage can result from illness, injury, or a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes. Patients with damaged nerves often experience pain, numbness, and partial loss of motor function in the affected areas of the body. These problems can range from mild to severe, and they often occur in the arms and legs, a condition called peripheral neuropathy. The most common treatments for nerve damage are lifestyle changes, medications, therapy, surgery.
Mild to moderate nerve damage and the resulting pain, weakness, and other symptoms can often be controlled through lifestyle changes. These changes focus on controlling the condition that is causing the nerve problems. Nutritional deficiencies and uncontrolled high blood sugar can make nerve problems worse, particularly for diabetic patients. Minor cases often get better once the patient makes an effort to eat more nutritious foods and control his blood sugar levels by consuming a diet with less sugar and processed foods. Other patients with nerve problems may be able to control their symptoms through regular exercise that helps them maintain a healthy weight, strengthens their muscles, and reduces pressure on painful areas.
Medications to minimize pain and treat underlying conditions are another common treatment for nerve damage. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, can help relieve mild and temporary nerve pain. Some patients require prescription pain medications, though the use of these drugs is monitored closely due to the risk of dependency. Other medications, such as anticonvulsants and antidepressants, can also help relieve pain and dizziness, another common symptom in patients with nerve damage.
Physical and occupational therapy can help patients with nerve damage regain motor function and strengthen their bodies to counteract weakness caused by the damaged or injured nerves. Patients with nerve problems are often given gentle stretching and strengthening exercises by physical therapists, particularly if their problems are caused by an injury or compression on a nerve root. Occupational therapists focus on helping patients adapt their home and work environments and lifestyles to their capabilities, such as adding non-slip surfacing and railings. Safety procedures, such as testing water temperature with a non-affected body part before getting in the shower or bath, are also taught.
Surgery is usually a last-resort treatment option, and is reserved for patients with severe nerve damage and those who do not get symptom relief from non-invasive treatment methods. Doctors can often repair damaged nerves by removing injured sections and reconnecting the healthy ends of the nerve or by replacing a damaged nerve with a piece of a healthy nerve taken from elsewhere in the patient's body. Not every patient with nerve damage is a good candidate for surgery. Nerve surgeons conduct multiple tests before proceeding with the operation to secure the best chance that the surgery will be successful in restoring sensation, minimizing pain, and increasing strength and mobility.