Everyone has two types of nerves: motor nerves, which carry messages between the brain and body to make the body move; and sensory nerves, which register pain, pressure and temperature.
Nerve injury – from pressure, stretching or cutting – can stop transmission of signals to and from the brain, causing muscles to stop working or a loss of feeling in the area supplied by the nerve.
There are countless ways a child can injure a nerve and there are varying degrees of these injuries.
Peripheral nerve injuries are most common. These nerves carry commands from the brain to the legs, arms, hands and feet and they’re fairly susceptible to injuries affecting the limbs. These nerves may be compressed – such as with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or thoracic outlet syndrome –or injured, as in brachial plexus. Peripheral nerve injuries may also be caused by birth trauma, sports collisions or car accidents.
The Pediatric Pain Management Center at Children’s Health offers children and parents a specially trained team that evaluates and treats chronic pain, acute pain and headaches. Our interdisciplinary approach involves many other specialties to treat pain using multiple approaches at once. The Center can help lessen the pain associated with a variety of diseases and disorders including, but not limited to, chest and back conditions, nerve injuries, rheumatologic conditions, sports injuries and cancer. We also have a dedicated headache clinic for those children suffering from headaches.
If your child is suffering from an injured or damaged nerve, he or she may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Tingling or pricking sensations
- Sensitivity to touch
- Muscle weakness
- Burning pain
- Muscle wasting
Tests and Diagnosis
Your child’s provider will perform a complete physical examination and assess how your child’s muscle control and sensation have been affected by the nerve injury. If a repetitive stress or postural injury – like carpal tunnel or thoracic outlet syndrome – is suspected, the provider may recommend specific activities or modifications to current activities.
If your child’s injury is more severe, your provider may order additional tests, such as:
An electromyogram (EMG), which evaluates electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles.
A nerve conduction study, which measures how well individual nerves can send an electrical signal from the spinal cord to the muscles.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify compression, swelling, or other signs of injury
If your child is diagnosed with a nerve injury, his or her provider will determine the location, degree and cause before prescribing treatments. If the pain is severe, your child may require a nerve block procedure. Nerve blocks are performed by injecting numbing medication around the nerves that carry the pain. Depending on the age of your child, the nerve block may be performed while your child is under general anesthesia.
Treatments that may be prescribed by the Pediatric Pain Management Center at Children’s Health℠, include:
- Pain relievers – over-the-counter or prescription
- Anti-seizure or anti-depressant medications, which can ease neuropathic pain
- Topical creams or patches
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Desensitization therapy
- Psychological counseling
- Electrode nerve stimulation
- Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or activity modifications
- Massage therapy
- Nerve blocks
- Surgery – referral to a specialist if needed
What causes nerve damage in children?
Nerve damage has a variety of causes from anatomical and postural problems, to trauma from falls or accidents, to repetitive stress from certain activities.
Will my child need surgery?
Your child’s treatment will depend on the degree and location of the injury. Your provider will explain the best course of treatment for nerve restoration or repair.