The nervous system is divided into a central portion (brain and spinal cord) and a peripheral portion (all the nerves once they exit the brain and spinal cord). The peripheral nervous system carries all the sensory information from your body back to the spinal cord and brain. This sensory information can be the feeling of touch, the feeling of pain, the feeling of pressure, the feeling of hot or cold, and the feeling of knowing where your body parts are in space without looking at them. The peripheral nervous system also carries all the motor information from your brain and spinal cord back to the muscles of your body. This information can be voluntary (you decide you want to move a muscle and you move it) or involuntary (breathing, sweating, digesting, etc.).
There are several diseases that affect the peripheral nervous system. These can manifest with pain, sensory disturbance (tingling, burning, inability to know where your body parts are without looking at them, pressure, etc), motor problems (weakness in moving a muscle or body part) or trouble with the involuntary parts of your body (abnormal sweating, trouble breathing, etc.)
To find out (diagnose) what affects you, a comprehensive neurological exam and history is required. Often, imaging with MRI or CT is also needed. Sometimes, EMG (electromyography) with NCV (nerve conduction velocity) is also obtained. A spinal tap may also be needed to discover any abnormalities in your spinal fluid.
Some nerve conditions require medication to treat. For instance, diabetes is a common cause of neuropathy (i.e., disease of nerve). Others are difficult to treat with current medical means (some degenerative neuromuscular diseases, like ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease). Some can be treated with neurosurgery.
The most common nerve conditions that can be treated by neurosurgery are:
- Entrapment (carpal tunnel disease, cubital tunnel disease, peroneal nerve entrapment)
- Tumors (link to nerve tumor section)
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