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Overview

Reversing nerve damage, which is medically referred to as a neuropathy, very importantly depends on which nerve structures sustained the insult.

When any damage is sustained to the brain or spinal cord, there is essentially an inability for these areas to regenerate nerve tissue. The damage to these nerve tissues is permanent with the result being that the affected individual sustains limitations to their movement.

Conversely, the peripheral nervous system, which is comprised of the nerve branches that leave the spinal column and supply the muscles with power and the skin with sensation, has the ability to repair and regenerate damaged nerve tissue.

Types of Nerve Damage

Peripheral nerves can become damaged through two important mechanisms of injury and they include:

  • Physical trauma - direct and high-velocity injuries such as those sustained through gunshots, knife stabbings, crush injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and sports injuries can result in the nerves becoming physically severed.
  • Medical conditions - illnesses such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, shingles, HIV, hepatitis C, an underactive thyroid, those that result in poor blood flow in the arms and legs, and bone marrow disorders, as well as exposure to heavy metals such as lead and any other disorders that result in a vitamin B1, B6, or B12 deficiency can lead to reduced nutrient and oxygen supply to the nerves causing them to become damaged and dysfunctional.

How Peripheral Nerves Regenerate

When a peripheral nerve is injured, a rapid process begins where specific cells in the bloodstream flow into the damaged area and start to clean up and digest the injured nerve tissue. The benefit of this process is that it prevents unhealthy scar tissue from developing. This process is medically referred to as Wallerian degeneration.

As the injured nerve tissue is cleared up, the severed or damaged end of the nerve starts to form finger-like sprouts and the nerve starts to regrow in search of its other end.   

At the other damaged end of the nerve fibre, also known as the partner end, Wallerian degeneration occurs which helps the nerve to protect the channel within the trunk fibre. This helps the mentioned sprouts of the other end of the nerve to find their way to the partner end without being obstructed by scar tissue.

The regrowth rate of the damaged nerve occurs at one to two millimetres per day at most. In real-life time, this can mean that it can take, for example, between six to nine months for a torn nerve to regenerate from a branch in the neck to the end of the arm.

Peripheral nerve damage caused by medical conditions can be managed by treating and controlling the underlying conditions.

The most important causes of peripheral nerve damage by medical conditions include diabetes and a vitamin B12 deficiency, which is mainly caused by the excessive intake of alcohol.

Patients who are diagnosed with these conditions need to take extra care in controlling their glucose levels with the correct measures and medications and those affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency should be advised to stop using alcohol and need to have this element replaced through adequate supplementation, respectively.

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