Why do plastic surgeons treat peripheral nerve pain?

peripheral nerve surgeonIf you're living with peripheral nerve pain, you might be wondering why a plastic surgeon could be the right specialist to help you. This is a valid question to ask, given that the general public tends to associate plastic surgery with cosmetic surgery. However, plastic surgeons can be well-equipped to treat peripheral nerve pain that is negatively affecting your quality of life.

Dr. Eric H. Williams completed his plastic surgery residency at the University of Alabama in Birmingham in June 2006. He then turned his attention to peripheral nerve surgery, completing another full year in fellowship training with Dr. A. Lee Dellon, a world-renowned specialist in peripheral nerve surgery, in 2007. His practice currently focuses on the surgical care and rehabilitation of lower extremity and upper extremity complex peripheral nerve syndromes with an emphasis on nerve injury and entrapment. This includes treating conditions such as common peroneal nerve compression, meralgia paresthetica, tarsal tunnel syndrome, and migraines related to nerve compression.

How Plastic Surgery Has Evolved Over Time

Plastic surgeons are known for their creative expertise in soft tissue injuries, many of which involve damage to the surrounding nerves. While cosmetic surgery has become a significant part of their practice in recent years, their roots actually lie in reconstructive surgery. This medical specialty began by treating major war injuries like those seen in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. The patient’s survival was the priority, not aesthetics.

Over time, plastic surgeons have perfected techniques first learned on the battlefield to improve the normal functions of the body. This can involve cosmetic procedures like eliminating wrinkles or reconstructing breasts after mastectomies, but it can also involve addressing pain caused by compression or injury to the peripheral nerves. 

Interestingly, approximately one-third of plastic surgeons practicing today are also trained hand surgeons. As a result, they receive comprehensive training in nerve injuries. The American Society for Peripheral Nerve (ASPN) has further fueled this interest, as it challenges plastic surgeons to become better at treating patients with peripheral nerve issues.

Why Plastic Surgeons Shine When It Comes to Treating Nerve Injuries

Plastic surgeons are not the only medical professionals who operate on peripheral nerves. However, since plastic surgeons operate all over the body, they have a broader perspective on soft tissue issues—including those involving peripheral nerves.

Other reasons plastic surgeons like Dr. Williams are well-equipped to treat peripheral nerve issues include:

  • Specialized training. Despite being a subspecialty within plastic surgery, there is a growing community of plastic surgeons dedicated to peripheral nerve surgery. They receive specialized training and employ techniques that have proven to be effective in surgically stopping chronic pain related to nerve compression or other nerve injuries 
  • Compassion and empathy. Plastic surgeons are often drawn to this field due to their desire to alleviate the suffering of their patients. Their compassion and empathy drive them to find solutions that genuinely work.
  • A desire for continuous improvement. Plastic surgeons interested in peripheral nerve issues are continuously refining their techniques. Learning from past experiences and adapting as needed, they aim to provide better outcomes for their patients.

Plastic Surgeons Can Offer a Permanent Solution to Nerve-Related Dysfunction

Traditionally, pain management teams including physiatrists and anesthesiologists have treated nerve pain with medications, injections, or electrical stimulation. Medications can have their place, but opioids like OxyContin can cause more harm than good. Medications also focus on temporary symptom relief instead of fixing the underlying issue that is causing the death of the nerve. 

Imagine that your child is crying because they broke their arm, and you decide to stick a gag in their mouth. They’ll stop crying, but the gag isn’t doing anything to treat the broken arm. It’s only creating new problems by making it harder for your son or daughter to breathe. The sensible thing to do as a parent is to treat the injury itself.

When a nerve is being compressed or pinched, surgical nerve decompression relieves the excess pressure on the nerve. This reduces pain and restores mobility.  If a nerve is physically injured, then it makes better sense to try to fix or repair the nerve if it is possible. While this is not always possible, many patients are too easily overlooked for procedures that might treat the underlying problem.   

If the correct diagnosis is made, and a repair, decompression, or treatment of the injured or compressed nerve is performed, then in many cases, patients are no longer dependent on pain medication to make it through the day. To learn more about the results Dr. Williams has been able to achieve with his patients, refer to the testimonials section of our website.