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Can Surgery Cause Nerve Damage?

Dental Surgery, Nerve Damage, Nerve Pain, Nerves

Mary experienced all the symptoms of nerve damage even years after the car accident and surgery on her arm to repair a fractured elbow. She was not sure if the trauma at the time of the accident or surgery caused the weakness, numbness, and pain in her arm. Her friend Louise fractured an ankle and started to have nerve pain after surgery. But a year later, the pain and numbness was gone except for a little numbness in one of her middle toes. Sometimes, people experience nerve pain, usually a few days after surgery, and tend to blame the surgeon. A study at the Mayo Clinic found that inflammation and not the knife of the surgeon often causes symptoms indicating nerve damage.

Symptoms of nerve damage

Nerve damage can be caused by diabetes, alcoholism, B-vitamin deficiencies, and trauma such as a car accident or sport injury. The main symptoms of nerve damage are:

· Numbness in hands, feet or other parts of the body. Numbness may develop gradually.

· Burning or stabbing pain. Pain may be intermittent.

· Extreme sensitivity to touch. Even a light touch may cause pain.


How nerves work

The nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord and the huge network of nerves that connect to our organs, muscles, skin, and glands. The nerve network that connects to the brain and spinal cord is called the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is like a complicated wiring system with nerves that have specific functions: motor nerves, sensory nerves, and autonomic nerves.

· Motor nerves. Motor nerves connect to muscles and control muscle movement by passing information from the brain to the muscles.

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· Sensory nerves. Sensory nerves connect to sensory organs like the skin and muscles. These nerves let you feel pain, touch, and temperature by passing information to the brain.

· Autonomic nerves. Autonomic nerves control involuntary or partially voluntary bodily functions. They control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, the digestive process, and bladder functions.

The nerve network has larger branches, which have smaller branches so that the most distant nerves are the smallest and can easily be damaged by compression, stretching, or cutting.

Don’t blame the surgeon

Sometimes a nerve is compressed, stretched, or severed by trauma or surgery. People tend to blame the surgeon when nerve pain starts after surgery. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic examined patients that had post-surgical nerve pain after orthopedic, abdominal, chest, and dental surgery. In almost every case, they found that nerves were inflamed and often surrounded by immune cells. Immunotherapy relieved nerve pain symptoms in treated patients. These results suggest that the symptoms of nerve damage are frequently caused by injury- or surgery-induced inflammation and not by manipulations or cutting of nerves.


Staff, N.P. et al. Post-surgical inflammatory neuropathy. (2010) Brain 133:2866

ScienceDaily http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100922111432.htm

Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/peripheral-neuropathy/DS00131