Updated October 27, 2022
If you’re experiencing pain, numbness, or tingling in your extremities or limbs after an auto accident, motorcycle accident, or truck accident, you may be suffering from nerve damage.
Tingling and numbness, although bothersome, can be temporary and go away within a few hours or days. In traumatic events like motor vehicle accidents though, these symptoms may turn out to be severe, episodic, or chronic.
Seek prompt medical care for tingling and numbness after a car accident. The quicker you receive treatment, the more likely you will recover.
Nerve damage caused by a car accident can happen in a number of ways, including whiplash; spinal disc herniations; blunt force trauma to the head, arms, or legs; and deep cuts. Symptoms of nerve damage vary depending on the injury and location:
- Increased or decreased sensitivity of the skin to hot or cold temperatures
- Muscles twitching uncontrollably
- Pain or muscle weakness in general
- Partial or full paralysis of the arm, hand, leg, or toes
- Prickling or tingling in any part of the body
- Sharp, radiating pain in the neck or back that travels to the limbs
Paresthesia is the medical term for numbness, tingling, burning, or prickling sensation usually felt in the hands, arms, legs, or feet.
Most people have experienced this when they compress a limb or extremity for too long and refer to the numb body part as having “fallen asleep.” A “pins and needles” or skin crawling sensation follows once pressure has been relieved.
Paresthesia can become chronic if a large cluster of nerves becomes damaged or severed. Seek emergency care if numbness or weakness happens suddenly; affects the entire arm, leg, or one side of the body; below a certain level of the body; or spreads rapidly to other areas.
Nerve Damage (Peripheral Neuropathy)
Damage to the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves) can cause weakness, numbness, and pain in the extremities. Other areas of the body can also be affected.
After a wreck, many victims report nerve damage in the hand, arm, or knee. They may describe the pain they are experiencing as tingling, stabbing, or burning. Nerve pressure can even be caused by having to wear a cast or using crutches.
The peripheral nervous system is made up of several types of nerves, each of which has a specific function. An injury can affect one nerve (mononeuropathy), two or more nerves in different locations (multiple mononeuropathies), or many nerves all at once (polyneuropathy).
- Autonomic nerves control blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, and bladder function.
- Motor nerves control muscle response and movement.
- Sensory nerves receive input about temperature, pain, vibrations, and touch.
Here are some signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy to look out for:
- Clumsiness or falling
- Dizziness or lightheadedness from changes in blood pressure
- Easily overheating
- Excessive sweating or being unable to sweat
- Muscle weakness or paralysis
- Numbness, prickling, or tingling in your hands or feet that can spread into your arms and legs
- Pain that is sharp, jabbing, throbbing, freezing, or burning
- Problems with digestion, the bladder, or the bowels
- Sensitivity to touch
Those suffering from peripheral neuropathy can experience further complications as a result of their nerve injury. For example, numbness means you may suffer cuts or burns without immediately realizing it, which can lead to infections or scars.
When too much pressure is applied to a nerve by the surrounding tissue, the nerve becomes compressed. This “pinching” can be caused by tendons, muscles, cartilage, or bone. In a car accident, trauma to the body can easily cause nerves to become pinched.
In most cases, relieving the pressure is enough to fix a pinched nerve and there is no lasting damage. But if the pressure is continuous, it can lead to chronic pain and permanent nerve damage.
Pinched nerve symptoms may include:
- Foot or hand frequently "falling asleep"
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness or decreased sensation
- Sharp, aching, or burning pain (it may radiate out from the affected area)
- Tingling sensations (paresthesia)
A person suffering from a pinched nerve may also find their symptoms worsening when they try to sleep.
The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks, and down the legs. A pinched sciatic nerve often makes the leg go numb. The victim may also suffer lower back pain and leg pain, pain that grows worse after sitting a while, loss of control of their bladder or bowels, muscle weakness, and tingling.
If you develop sciatic nerve pain after an accident, see your doctor immediately.
Bulging and Herniated Discs
Cervical spine issues are common after a collision. The forces of a crash can cause the rubbery discs sitting between the vertebrae to slide out of place or become squished. If the disc shifted slightly but remains intact, it is referred to as a bulging disc. A disc that leaks or bursts open is a herniated disc. In either case, the injury can put pressure on the nearby spinal cord nerves.
Arm and hand tingling is a common symptom of disc injuries. The irritated or pinched nerves in the spine have trouble sending signals to the left or right arm. Other signs of a herniated disc include neck pain and stiffness.
Partially or completely dislocated bones can stretch or tear nearby nerves. Symptoms of a dislocated joint include pain, swelling, bruising and looking bent out of place. Dislocation limits the ability to use the injured joint normally and often comes with a potential loss of feeling. Treatment involves putting the bone back in place (reduction).
Dislocations can lead to serious complications if the skin is broken or blood vessels and nerves are torn. Nerves that are stretched, bruised, or crushed can take weeks, months, or years to heal.
Here is a list of dislocations and fractures and the nerves at risk of injury:
- Shoulder dislocation can affect the axillary nerve, reducing muscle control in the shoulder and upper arm.
- Arm fracture can affect the radial nerve, causing the wrist to droop or numbness in the back of the hand.
- Elbow fracture can injure the median nerve, causing an inability to flex the thumb and forefinger.
- Forearm fracture can injure the posterior interosseous nerve, making the fingers and thumb drop.
- Hip dislocation affects the sciatic nerve and can lead to a droopy foot and numbness.
- Knee dislocation can injure the common peroneal nerve and can also cause foot drop and numbness in the back of the foot.
Swelling of the Spinal Cord
Spinal cord compression is caused by pressure on the spinal cord and the bundles of nerves running up and down the vertebrae. Strands of nerves branch out from openings along the spine to connect to muscles and other soft tissues.
In a car accident, spinal cord compression can happen quickly. It can affect any part of the spine from the neck (cervical spine) to the lower back (lumbar spine).
Symptoms of spinal compression include:
- Pain and stiffness in the neck or back
- Burning pain in the arms, rear, or legs
- Numbness, weakness, or cramping in the arms, hands, or legs
- Losing sensation in the feet
- Poor hand or leg coordination
- Severe pain and weakness in the legs that make it difficult to get up or walk
- Loss of sexual ability
It is important to see a medical expert right away if you suspect your spinal cord has been damaged in any way. They can help you learn about your condition and provide management and treatment options.
Diagnosing and Treating Nerve Damage
The healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions regarding your symptoms, work environment, alcohol use, family history of neurological diseases, and so forth.
There are several ways to test for nerve damage. The doctor may:
- examine your cerebrospinal fluid (this can help identify antibodies associated with peripheral neuropathy).
- use an electromyogram (EMG) to test electrical activity in certain muscles.
- do a nerve conduction velocity (NCV) test.
- order a CT scan, MRI, or X-ray.
- conduct a nerve or skin biopsy.
Treatment for tingling and numbness will depend on an accurate diagnosis of the underlying causes. Surgery for nerve damage after a car accident is rare, but it can help relieve pain for pinched or severed nerves. Torn nerves cannot heal on their own and may need to be repaired surgically.
Nerve damage can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the injury sustained in the auto accident. A doctor may recommend physical therapy and chiropractic care to relieve pressure; therapeutic massage to increase blood flow and relaxation; acupuncture; anti-inflammatory meds; steroid injections to reduce inflammation; and rest to reduce swelling, tension, and pain.
Long-Term Nerve Damage
Unfortunately, nerve damage can be permanent, even if treated. Long-term nerve damage can lead to chronic numbness or pain. Paresthesia in the feet or hands may make it difficult to walk, balance, or manipulate objects without assistance. Pain can come from severed nerves misfiring and sending faulty signals to the brain that something is wrong.
Compensation for Nerve Damage
Pinched or damaged nerves are common in severe car accident injuries. They can be caused by whiplash, cervical spine damage, or deep lacerations. Some people who experience numbness or tingling after a car accident delay going to see a doctor. They don’t think their symptoms are serious or hope they will eventually go away.
Allowing nerve damage to go untreated after a car accident can potentially lead to serious, long-term consequences and nerve pain. If you are experiencing numbness and tingling in your toes, feet, legs, lower back, upper back, fingers, hands, or arms, you need to visit your doctor for possible nerve damage treatment.
Car accidents can cause nerve damage. Don’t let the insurance company downplay or ignore your pain just because your injuries may not be visible. Talk to our Atlanta car accident lawyers today to learn how you can pursue compensation for nerve damage. We make sure your settlement covers the cost of the wreck, medical bills, lost wages if you’re forced to miss time from work, and any additional pain and suffering for reduced quality of life.
Contact us for a free consultation to get started on your recovery.