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What is Nerve Palsy?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Nerve palsy is a collective term for a range of nervous disorders that result in weakness or immobility of nerves in some region of the body. In some cases, the palsy is only temporary and will fade over time. However, there are some types that do not respond well to either the passing of time or various treatment options. When that is the case, the palsy is deemed a permanent health issue that must be dealt with as best as possible.

One of the more well known forms of nerve palsy is known as Bell’s Palsy. This particular nervous system disorder causes either paralysis or general weakness on one side of the face. Bell’s Palsy occurs when some action causes the facial nerves that run from beneath each ear to the muscles on that side of the face to cease functioning correctly. As a result, there is either a complete loss of the ability to move one side of the mouth, open or close the eye on that side of the face, or even to register much in the way of emotion.

Fortunately, many cases of Bell’s Palsy can be treated effectively. This is especially true when the regimen of therapy and other treatments begins shortly after the development of the nerve palsy. There are even documented instances where the palsy eventually faded on its own; this possibility is most likely with cases where the paralysis is limited to a small area of the face rather than an entire side.

Other forms of this condition produce similar results, in that the nerves associated with the region become ineffectual and are not able to produce the desired function. Peroneal nerve palsy is one example. If left untreated, it can develop in a severe disability that leaves a foot completely incapacitated. Ocular nerve palsy, cranial palsy, and ulna palsy also produce this effect of weakness and inaction in other parts of the body.

Treatments for various forms of nerve palsy include medication, massage, and physical therapy. Some attempts to use surgery to reverse the effects of palsy have been made, but not with any great degree of success. Alternative treatments such as acupuncture are said to help some people recover full nerve activity, although the evidence for the efficacy of acupuncture remains mainly anecdotal.

Since there is a relatively good chance for a spontaneous recovery, it is not unusual for many people to begin to show signs of improvement within three weeks of the onset of the disorder. Generally, people who exhibit some degree of improvement early on and are under the age of fifty tend to have the best chances for a full recovery.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon988446 — On Feb 11, 2015

Anon has obviously gone to commercial optometrists. My training was seven years and it is now a full eight years. I treat many disorders, do topical surgeries and work closely with cornea and retinal specialists. I would suggest not lumping everyone into the Walmart you go to. That's not eye care.

By anon314883 — On Jan 20, 2013

I was born with some type of nerve palsy in both arms, but in the 60's it was never given a specific name, so I'm still not sure what it is. I am now 52 and have had a full life, I've just learned to adapt and do things a little differently.

By anon308514 — On Dec 11, 2012

These conditions should be seen and diagnosed by opthalmologists and not optometrists. Optometrists are not medical doctors. They only go to four years of school. People who don't have the abilities to get into a real medical school but still want to be called doctors.

Too bad this profession was not better regulated. They hurt many people and only really want to sell high-priced frames which are marked up by about 90 percent profit margin.

By anon278531 — On Jul 07, 2012

If you had been to a worthwhile optometrist, this condition should have been diagnosed in childhood. If it didn't 'turn up' until your 20s, your optometrist(s) needs their eyes tested.

Unfortunately, many optometrists are incompetent and do not conduct thorough eye examinations. Many simply care about prescribing eyeglasses for simple refractive errors and selling you a pair of glasses that you may not even need.

By anon272186 — On May 30, 2012

I have fourth nerve palsy in my left eye. My main symptoms are vertical diplopia /visual confusion, head tilt with neck pain, eye strain headaches (or not so much eye strain as muscle strain in the eye, I guess) and the obvious upward eye turn which got worse over the last several years. Oh, and I have a lack of 3D vision (though I didn't notice that) and fairly poor depth/distance perception (including running into the corner of walls and knocking things together).

It didn't really show up until my 20's (I'm 28 now), but in my teens I would roll my eyes upward because I felt like the muscles needed to be stretched, and then I developed the head tilt, and then my eye started turning more and I couldn't correct/control it anymore. I recently got surgery which seems to have fixed it (even have some 3D vision now), but it's still healing and drifting a bit.

By musicshaman — On Sep 07, 2010

The one that really freaks me out is 5th nerve palsy, or trigeminal nerve palsy. This causes episodes of intense pain throughout the face, with no known cause.

People say that it's like something suddenly falls onto their face, or as though it catches on fire!

I can't imaging having to deal with that on a daily basis -- best of luck to those who do.

By FirstViolin — On Sep 07, 2010

@closerfan -- Well, 4th (IV) nerve palsy primarily affects the eyes, so most of the symptoms have to do with irregular eye movement.

For example, uncontrollable rolling of one eye, a tendency for the eye to face away from the nose, or double vision. Some people tend to hold their heads to one side to compensate, which can eventually lead to neck pain.

However, since 4th nerve palsy is often congenital, fourth nerve palsy treatment options are usually limited to surgery to correct the alignment of the eyes by attaching muscles to the eye to hold it in place.

Afterwards, patients also usually require some form of vision correction.

Hope this helps out -- that's all I got on nerve palsy in the eye.

By closerfan12 — On Sep 07, 2010

What are some of the most common fourth nerve palsy symptoms?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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