Nerve Damage from Surgery

Nerve Damage from Surgery
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Nerve damage from surgery is a risk of all surgeries. It can occur when a nerve is cut by a scalpel or bruised during the surgical procedure. Damage also results when the tissues that surround the nerves become inflamed. For some patients, the nerve damage can be repaired, but for some it is permanent.

There are three different types of nerve damage after surgery and these include neuropraxia, neurotmesis, and axonotmesis. Those who experience neuropraxia will experience an interruption in nerve impulse conduction, but the structure of the nerve will not be altered. When this type of nerve damage occurs it often results in nerve compression and blood supply disruption. This type of nerve damage can be completely repaired.

Neurotmesis is a type of surgery-related nerve damage caused by things such as contusions, stretches, and lacerations. When this type occurs the continuity of the tissues along with the axon is lost. Recovery is possible, but this is considered the most serious type of nerve damage.

Axonotmesis is a type of nerve damage in which the myelin sheath stays intact, but there is a disruption of the neuronal axon. This type of nerve injury often results in autonomic or motor sensory paralysis.

How Does Nerve Damage Occur During Surgery?

Aside from physical damage, such as cuts or bruises, nerve damage can also be caused by the anesthesia. Anesthesia, both the medicines used and the administration of them, can result in nerve damage.

Possible Symptoms

The symptoms experienced depend on the type of nerve damaged. When the damage affects an autonomic nerve, the patient can experience the inability to feel chest pain, sexual dysfunction, sweating too much or too little, bladder dysfunction, lightheadedness, constipation, and dry mouth and eyes.

When the damage affects the motor nerves, the patient can experience weakness, paralysis, muscle atrophy, and twitching.

When the damage affects the sensory nerves, the patient can experience pain, positional awareness problems, sensitivity, burning, numbness, prickling, and tingling.

Treating Nerve Damaged Caused by Surgery

Many cases of nerve damage will never be completely cured. However, there are several different types of treatment that can be used to alleviate the patient’s symptoms. Most forms of nerve damage are progressive so patients should always talk to their doctor as soon as they begin to notice symptoms. This will help to reduce their chances of experiencing permanent nerve damage in cases where it is reversible.

Certain types of nerve damage will benefit from regular physical therapy. The type and extent of physical therapy depends completely on the individual patient. This treatment method is used to address the trauma or compression of the nerves.

Certain medications may be beneficial in treating this condition. These most often include pain relievers, certain anti-seizure medications, and tricyclic antidepressants. Not all patients will respond to medications, however.

Some patients may find certain types of alternative and complementary medicine beneficial when added to their prescribed treatment plan. Those wishing to use these methods should always first discuss them with their medical doctor. Some alternative treatments that may help include acupuncture, hypnosis, biofeedback, and meditation.


Wrong Diagnosis. (2010). Nerve Damage. Retrieved on March 12, 2010 from Wrong Diagnosis:

WebMD. (2010). Nerve Pain and Damage: Symptoms and Causes. Retrieved on March 12, 2010 from WebMD:

Image Credits

Nerve Diagram: NIDA – Wikimedia Commons