Why do we have to learn the Cranial Nerves?

You may currently be learning about the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that emerge from the brain.  Students often ask me, “Why do we have to learn these?  These things are confusing!”  Often times it’s helpful to step back and look at the big picture to get a better understanding of how everything fits together.  If you are going into a profession where you will deal with head injuries, you’ll need to know about the cranial nerves.  In upper level undergraduate and graduate level courses, many people will learn how to test the function of the cranial nerves.  Testing someone’s cranial nerve function after an injury can give you clues as to what’s happening inside their head.  For example, you may be testing the six cardinal fields of gaze where you trace a letter H in the air in front of your patient.  If you see that they can’t look laterally, that means their lateral rectus muscle isn’t working.  The lateral rectus is innervated by cranial nerve VI: the Abducens nerve.   The function of the Abducens nerve is one of the first functions to be lost with an increase in intracranial pressure.  Intracranial pressure could be high for many reasons like bleeding or from things like a tumor, high blood pressure, infection, etc.  So, hang in there!  Your hard work will pay off in the end.  Happy studying!  🙂

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