You have nerves throughout your entire body. Nerves send electrical signals that help you feel sensations and move your muscles. Nerves also control body functions like digesting food and maintaining your heart rate. Nerves are one of the foundational parts of your nervous system.
Nerves are like cables that carry electrical impulses between your brain and the rest of your body. These impulses help you feel sensations and move your muscles. They also maintain certain autonomic functions like breathing, sweating or digesting food.
Nerve cells are also called neurons. Neurons are present all over your body, especially in your brain and spinal cord. Nerves, together with your brain and spinal cord, are the foundation of your nervous system. Most of the time when doctors use the term “nerve,” they’re referring to the part of your nervous system outside of your brain and spinal cord. This is called your peripheral nervous system.
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You have two main types of nerves:
You also have two main groups of nerves branching out from your brain and spinal cord:
Nerves send electrical signals from one part of your body to another. These signals control your:
Your nerves help the two parts of your nervous system communicate with each other:
When a nerve sends an electrical impulse:
Many nerves start in your spinal cord and some even from your brain. They extend throughout your body, including in your:
Your nerves are made up of:
In your brain, cells called oligodendrocytes surround axons. Outside of your central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), cells called Schwann cells surround the axons.
Both oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells contain a fatty tissue called myelin. Myelin surrounds the axons in a layered sheath (coating). The myelin sheath is like the insulation around electrical wiring. If it gets damaged, your nerves can’t send electrical signals as quickly. Sometimes, they stop sending electrical signals completely.
Some conditions affect how well your nerves send signals. If damage or injury interferes with nerve signals, you may develop a neurological condition.
Common conditions that affect the nerves include:
You can keep your nerves and entire nervous system healthier by adopting healthy habits, like:
You may also ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your nerves run throughout your whole body. They connect your brain and spinal cord with other parts of your body so you can move and feel sensations. They also control many of your body’s “automatic” functions, such as breathing or digesting food. You can improve the health of your entire nervous system by practicing healthy habits, like eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2022.
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