Nerves are like the electrical wires of the body, carrying signals to and from your brain. They allow you to move, feel and touch—but when one is cut or damaged, those signals are interrupted. This can cause pain, numbness, burning or loss of function in the affected body part.
nerve damage after surgery
Chronic post-operative pain is common. If you have pain after surgery that lingers beyond the normal recovery time, you may have a damaged nerve. Significant numbers (10%–40%) of patients experience chronic neuropathic pain after surgery. This is known as surgically induced neuropathic pain (SNPP).
- Pain (especially tingling or burning sensations or sharp shooting pain)
- Pressure or squeezing sensation
- Physical changes (such as changes to muscle mass, skin color)
- Decreased motor function
Nerves can be challenging to see during surgery. Their size, anatomy and location can vary from person to person. Sometimes, a surgeon may unintentionally cut, compress or stretch a nerve. This damages the nerve and can lead to chronic pain.
what kinds of surgery can result in nerve damage?
Any surgery, routine or otherwise, can result in nerve damage, but it occurs most often in these types of procedures:
- Joint replacements such as hip or knee replacements
- Thoracotomy: a surgery where the surgeon cuts between the ribs to reach organs in the chest cavity (lungs, for example)
- Hernia repair: a procedure to contain the bulge of a hernia inside the body
- Caesarean section: also known as a C-section, this surgery ensures delivery of a baby through an incision in the birth mother’s abdomen
- Abdominoplasty: a cosmetic surgery to make the abdomen appear thinner and more firm, also known as a “tummy tuck”
- Hysterectomy: the surgical removal of the uterus
- Open reductions and internal fixation (ORIF): a surgery to repair broken bones that requires hardware to ensure the fractured pieces remain connected
- Nerve biopsy: a procedure to remove part of a nerve for sampling in a lab
- Amputation: loss or removal of a body part, such as a hand, leg, etc.
- Mastectomy: a surgical operation to remove one or both breasts
- Laparoscopic or arthroscopic procedures: also known as keyhole surgery, an operation that allows a surgeon to operate by inserting a camera into the abdomen, pelvis or knee through small incisions
what can i do about nerve damage after surgery?
A peripheral nerve surgeon may be able to help. Nerve surgeons specialize in the surgical repair of peripheral nerves, including nerve damage that may have occurred during a previous surgery. These include plastic reconstructive surgeons, orthopedic hand surgeons, neurosurgeons, oral maxillofacial (ear, nose and throat) surgeons, and foot and ankle surgeons (doctors of podiatric medicine). Learn more about the types of nerve surgeons and what they do.
If you’re ready to talk to a doctor about treating your chronic nerve pain, we’ve created a guide to help you locate someone.