Can nerves regenerate?

Can injured nerves regrow?
02 December 2007


Cartoon representation of a nerve cell



Three months ago I underwent surgery to fix a broken collar bone and since then an area just under the surgery site in the skin has become numb. My doctor’s told me that it’s normal and I’ll regain sensation there in a few months. Indeed it is coming back slowly but surely. I thought that nerve damage was permanent and it wasn’t possible to regenerate nerves and therefore get sensation back.


The nervous system is divided into two camps. There is the central nervous system (CNS) which is your brain and your spinal cord. Then there is the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which is everything else.

In the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), if you injure that - as far as we know - it's permanent. The nerve cells may die; or they may not die but they certainly don't reconnect with where they should connect. That stops signals getting through which is why you get problems of paralysis or loss of sensation, depending on where the damage is. That's why a stroke is so disabling.

In the skin the nerve cells there seem to be able to survive injury. They also seem to be able to re-grow to their targets so they go back to where they connected to in the first place. So if it was a muscle they were supposed to be supplying, they'll reconnect with the muscle. If it was a patch of skin they can branch out and re-supply the skin so you do get sensation back.

But nerves grow quite slowly, probably a couple of millimetres a day. So if you've got a big injury the length of your arm it can take a few weeks before the nerves can get back to your arm. The sensation may not be absolutely perfect because some nerve cells might die but you should get coverage of the skin back afterwards.

What happens when you break or interrupt a nerve is that the actual cell inside is just one massive long cell. The distal bit (the bit downstream of the cut site) will degenerate. It retracts and forms this little lump bulb. This then grows back along the original path of the nerve so it uses the original pathway of the nerve as a guide, rather like a motorway cone. It uses the cones and lays down a new road surface, which is the nerve, and it gets back to where it was supposed to attach. The distal site it was supposed to attach to switches on various markers so it can recognise it and off it goes!


how can one forget the autonomic nerve system when writing such an article?

Has anyone out there been a victim of west nile virus that caused paralysis due to nerve damage? I was inflicted 5 months ago and my progress has been very slow, seems like my arm has reached its potential, I'm not convinced. Will I get full mobility? physical therapy, and LED therapy seems to work. is there anything else I can do?

Sorry to hear this; the outcome depends upon what has caused the initial incident and the subsequent symptoms (peripheral vs central nerve damage); it sounds like you had WNV encephalitis?

Last year I went in to have back surgery at a very popular laser spinal institute. I had three herniated discs from a ladder fall injury. They were only going to do one in soon initially, but after I got there and had a closed sided MRI done they changed it to three incisions. One to solidify the discs and then two bilaterally to severer the nerves to the area and provide further pain relief. The doctor said that the bilateral nerves severed would never grow back.
But two months later I developed a burning on my coccyx Area and new sensations in my bowels whenever I had eaten anything that I had never felt before. I had my lower abdomen checked for any signs of growths or blocakages. Nothing was found. Could the nerves have regrown into my abodmen or down to my tail bone area?
My pain levels have went through the roof and I have no idea why and also these new sensations are completely beyond me as to why.
Any feedback would be helpful.

Add a comment