Understanding the Dual Aspects of the Peripheral Nervous System

The PNS is divided into the autonomic and somatic systems. Autonomic processes include your heartbeat and your breathing. These are bodily motions that you don’t have to think about. Somatic processes are managed by conscious direction from your brain and include the gathering of information through your senses and your muscle movements.

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Why choose The Atlas Institute of Peripheral Nerve Care?

The Atlas Institute of Peripheral Nerve Care is a cutting-edge practice dedicated to transforming the lives of patients struggling with chronic discomfort. Our state-of-the-art, best-in-class diagnostic and therapeutic technology – supported by our providers’ extensive expertise, knowledge, and skill – helps patients to reclaim their quality of life, mobility, confidence, and peace of mind. We offer both surgical and non-surgical solutions, with each treatment plan carefully designed with your needs and goals in mind. We believe that every patient deserves to enjoy their favorite hobbies, sports, activities, and adventures free from debilitating pain.

Where is the PNS Located?

The peripheral nervous system includes the following:

  • Cranial nerves – There are 11 nerves that are part of the PNS. These include nerves connected to smell, sound, taste, and touch, as well as one called the vagus nerve that attaches to your vital organs. 
  • Spinal nerves – There are 31 pairs of nerves attached to your spinal column, and they correspond to each vertebra. Each branches out, connecting to smaller nerves throughout the body. Many eventually end up in the tips of the fingers and toes.
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What Does the Peripheral Nervous System Look Like?

The PNS resembles an upside-down tree, with the brain representing the roots, the spine the trunk, and the nerves the tree limbs, branches, and twigs.

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Conditions Related to the PNS

Peripheral neuropathy refers to disease or damage related to the peripheral nervous system. Factors affecting the PNS include:

  • Injury and trauma – Nerve damage can occur after an accident or injury and can be temporary or permanent. Swelling is common after trauma, but it can put pressure on the nerves. Nerve compression ailments include carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica.
  • Tumors – Malignant tumors (cancers), as well as benign tumors, can interfere with the proper function of the PNS.
  • Type 2 diabetes – Untreated diabetes can damage the peripheral nervous system, often causing patients to lose feeling in their extremities. Type 2 diabetes is among the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy.
  • Autoimmune disorders and inflammation – Ailments such as Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Guillain-Barre Syndrome are grouped within this category.
  • Infections, bacteria, and viruses – Nerve damage can occur due to viruses like HIV or due to bacteria like Borrelia burgdorferi, which is connected to Lyme disease. Shingles can also result in nerve disorders.
  • Medications and surgeries – Nerve damage can occur as a side effect of a surgical procedure. Certain medications and antibiotics can also harm the peripheral nerves.

Common Symptoms of Peripheral Nerve Damage

  • Motor nerve damage can cause weakness, clumsiness, cramps, spasms, twitches, tremors, and muscle shrinkage.
  • Sensory nerve damage can cause a loss of sensation in the affected areas. The body may stop being able to register temperatures or vibrations. Simple tasks such as opening an envelope or buckling a belt can become challenging.
  • Paresthesia is tingling or numbness in the arms and legs, often referred to as “pins and needles.”
  • Neuropathic pain is commonly experienced as burning or sharp pain that may interfere with normal activities.

How is Nerve Damage Diagnosed?

There are multiple ways to diagnose damage to the peripheral nervous system. During a neurological examination, your provider will assess the function of your hands, arms, legs, and feet. They may perform the following:

  • Ultrasound imaging
  • Blood tests
  • Electromyograms
  • Nerve conduction tests
  • Biopsies
  • Genetic testing
  • MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging)
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Treatment Options

A broad range of treatment options is available for addressing problems related to the PNS, including surgical and non-surgical solutions. Treatments include:

  • Medications – Injections, oral pills, supplements, and slow-release patches can be effective in helping patients to manage their symptoms of pain and discomfort.
  • Electrical nerve stimulation – A mild electrical current can be used to block the transmission of nerve pain to the brain.
  • Surgery – Surgery may be needed to bring lasting relief from nerve damage. Trapped nerves can be released, while cut nerves can be reconnected. 
  • Physical therapy – Physical therapy can help patients recuperate after injuries or medical procedures, improving symptoms.
  • HBOT – Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can enhance healing through growth factors and stem cells released at the target area.
  • Nerve ablation – This technique can block malfunctioning nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.
  • Devices and equipment – Devices like braces, walkers, canes, and prescribed footwear can be helpful in offsetting certain painful conditions.

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