Is this cause for concern?
Neurapraxia is a relatively mild type of nerve injury, and it’s fairly common. It’s often the result of trauma to the body, such as a hard blow to the neck, shoulders, or back.
It usually feels like a stinging or burning sensation. Depending on which nerve is affected, there is weakness as well. These symptoms may last minutes to a few days or months, depending on which nerves are affected and the severity of the injury.
Keep reading to learn more about why this happens, what to do if you’re experiencing symptoms, and more.
What causes neurapraxia and who’s at risk?
Neurapraxia can occur when a nerve has been stretched or compressed beyond its normal range. The damage doesn’t actually happen to the nerve itself, but to the surrounding myelin sheath.
Myelin acts as insulation around a nerve and is necessary for the nerve to function properly. Myelin helps electrical signals move quickly along the nerves. Someone who experiences neurapraxia in the nerves of their arm, for example, may find that the arm is numb for a short time. Myelin can often repair itself, allowing the affected nerves to return to normal.
Football players are at an especially high risk for neurapraxia injuries, sometimes called stingers, during violent collisions. These injuries can occur in other sports, too, or as the result of a fall, car accident, or some other trauma to the body.
How is it diagnosed?
You may experience neurapraxia after an injury or after an operation that damages some nerves. It’s important to know how to respond in both cases.
After an injury
If you feel a sudden sharp, stinging pain in your neck, arms, or legs, stop whatever activity you’re doing. This will allow you to determine if the pain or numbness goes away and if there are any other symptoms such as weakness.
You should also call your doctor. Any nerve injury could be related to a more serious spinal injury, so it’s important to avoid further activity until your injury has been evaluated. This is true even if the feeling in your arm, leg, or neck comes back quickly.
Your doctor will use imaging tests to assess any damage and rule out more serious injuries. An X-ray can determine if your spine or other bones in the affected area have been fractured. An MRI scan can help your doctor look for signs of a herniated disk, contusion to a bone in the spine, or spinal stenosis.
After major surgery, such as a hip replacement, you may feel tingling or numbness in the area of the operation or even elsewhere in your body. This can result from stretching or compressing nerves during the procedure or inflammation caused by the operation.
If you’re experiencing symptoms, see your doctor. They can use an MRI or CT scan to assess the affected area. They may also recommend an electrical conduction test, which measures the electrical current passing through a nerve.
How is nerve injury categorized?
Nerve injuries are classified by the severity and type of damage done to the nerve. Neurapraxia is considered a mild injury, and full recovery is likely.
Other nerve injury categories include:
- Axonotemesis: The cable-like filaments (axons) in the nerve, which are surrounded by myelin, have been damaged. With treatment, a full recovery may be possible.
- Neurotemesis: The entire nerve has been severed. Full recovery isn’t likely unless surgery can connect the nerve back together.
- Avulsion: The nerve has been completely separated from the spinal cord. There is no chance for repair or recovery.
What treatment options are available?
In many cases, minor nerve injuries can be treated with rest. Icing and elevating the area may help reduce any bruising or swelling. Range-of-motion exercises may also be helpful if there isn’t any structural damage to the joint.
If symptoms linger, talk to your doctor about using massage, acupuncture, or physical therapy to ease your symptoms. They can walk you through your options.
If your nerve injury isn’t the result of neurapraxia, your doctor will work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan.
What is the outlook for neurapraxia?
A full recovery from neurapraxia can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the severity of the injury. You may feel weaker and have less range of motion during your recovery. Being symptom-free and having the strength and flexibility you had before the injury are the surest signs that you’re recovered.
If you were seen by a doctor at the time of the injury, you should follow up during your recovery and report any other symptoms. Although additional complications aren’t likely, persistent symptoms could mean that the injury wasn’t neurapraxia, but something more severe.
If a nerve recovers fully, neurapraxia shouldn’t return. However, any trauma to the body, whether from sports or other cause, can trigger a new case of neurapraxia.