You have a nerve injury. Perhaps you have numbness, weakness, or chronic pain in a hand or an arm or leg from a traumatic injury, an infection, or a chronic disease like diabetes.
You may have been on temporary disability if your nerve injury affects your ability to do your job. For example, if you’re a carpenter, electrician, plumber, or hold another job that involves using your hands, but your fingers or thumb are numb, you may not be able to work. Your nerve injury may require surgical repair so that you can regain normal motor function and sensation.
Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Coastal Empire Orthopedics treat many patients who need nerve repair. The surgery is the first step in healing your damaged nerve so that you can regain everyday use of the affected area of your body.
What happens during nerve repair surgery?
You’re normally under general anesthesia for nerve repair surgery, so you’ll feel no pain during the procedure. Your surgeon examines the injured nerve using a powerful microscope and debrides torn tissue or scar tissue from the ends. The method used to repair your nerve depends on where it’s located and what’s causing the pain.
If you have enough length on the ends of the nerve so that it can be reconnected without stretching it, your surgeon takes that approach. It’s the most straightforward nerve repair procedure.
If your doctor has to take a significant amount of tissue from the nerve, leaving a gap so that it cannot be reconnected, he harvests a nerve from your leg or arm to place in the space. This procedure is called nerve grafting.
If you have health issues precluding a nerve graft, your surgeon may choose to use a conduit, a tube that spans the gap and connects the nerve endings. The tube is made of biological or synthetic materials.
What to expect after nerve repair surgery
You won’t be able to drive yourself home after surgery, and depending on the area of your body for the nerve repair, you may need help for a couple of days afterward.
Nerve repair requires time and patience during the healing process. Your recovery time varies depending on how far the nerve needs to grow. Nerves heal about one inch per month. You’ll have follow-up appointments with your surgeon, during which he determines how your nerve regeneration is progressing.
Nerve fibers have to grow down the full length of the damaged nerve to where the nerve and muscle intersect. That can take between six months to one year. The nerve fibers then have to enter the muscle. It takes time before the nerve grows into the muscle enough to give the muscle signals that it can respond to. That process can take anywhere from a year to a year and a half.
This is where patience comes in. You won’t feel your body growing the nerve fibers — but know that it is happening. You do play an active role in your recovery, though, by your participation in physical therapy. The therapy keeps your nerves active, helps maintain flexibility in your joints, and keeps your muscles from atrophying. Once your muscles begin to contract, the exercises focus on improving strength to regain normal movement.
Call Coastal Empire Orthopedics or book an appointment through our online portal today for relief from your nerve pain. We’re here to be your partner in your musculoskeletal health.