Understanding Nerve Graft Surgery

Nerve grafts restore feeling and functionWhen a nerve becomes damaged and needs to be split into two pieces, it may not be possible to attach the ends back together. This can happen if the damage is severe. 

If the nerve ends can’t be reattached, an option to treat the damaged nerve is a nerve graft. Dr. Williams can do this nerve reconstruction procedure using a piece of donor nerve to fill in the gap between the two ends of the nerves to create a bridge. The nerve will regenerate over time until it grows back to the other end.

The nerves used for a nerve graft are donor nerves that are commonly taken from another area of your body that uses small sensory nerves that do not serve a critical function. In addition to using donor nerves from your own body, there is also an option to use donated processed nerves from another person.

Conditions Treated by Nerve Graft Surgery

A nerve graft can be done to repair nerve damage resulting from conditions such as:

  • Paralysis of the face
  • Brachial Plexus Palsy
  • Foot drop caused by peroneal nerve entrapment

Those with peripheral nerve disorders may also benefit from this type of procedure. Consulting with a specialist such as Dr. Williams can help determine if a nerve graft is an option for your specific needs or condition.

Recovering From Nerve Graft Surgery

Nerve graft surgery is done using general anesthesia and may require an overnight stay in the hospital. The procedure can take several hours to complete. It involves repairing the damaged nerve by replacing a segment with a donor nerve. The end result is restored feeling and function to the area of the body where the nerve damage occurred.

A nerve graft using a donor nerve from the person’s own body is simple and safe. The risk of rejection is reduced. There is a greater risk of rejection when nerves from another person are used, but the benefits and potential disadvantages will be explained before your surgery. 

After surgery, the area where the nerve graft was performed will be wrapped in a dressing to prevent movement. This dressing should be used for three weeks or until your doctor advises you otherwise. In addition, you may be given narcotics for the pain to use for a short period of time. Over-the-counter pain relievers may also be used.

When recovering from nerve graft surgery, the following may happen:

  • You may experience a large area of numbness in the area where the donor nerves were removed.
  • You may have a tingling sensation.
  • You will lose feeling and function in the area where the donor nerve was taken.

After surgery, you will be closely monitored. Electrical stimulation may be used to help nerves regain function. It can take six to 12 months for nerves to recover. Nerve grafts done in areas farthest from the spinal cord will take longer to recover than those closest to the spinal cord.

Possible Complications

With any surgery, there is a risk for complications. Nerve graft surgery may have the following complications:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Wounds that are slow to heal
  • Diminished nerve function
  • Pain

The success of the nerve graft can vary from patient to patient. There are several factors that can affect the overall success of the procedure. These include:

  • Patient’s age and overall health
  • Length of time since the injury
  • Type of injury
  • The severity of the injury
  • Level of blood flow to the injured area
  • Length of the nerve graft needed for repair
  • Quality of the nerve repair
  • Tension on the nerve

Dr. Williams will discuss any risk factors before your procedure and explain how they may affect you and the result of the nerve graft. 

Contact Us With Questions

If you are experiencing nerve pain and have questions about treatment options, contact Dr. Williams for a consultation. At your appointment, Dr. Williams will determine what options for treatment are possible for your specific condition and needs. He can create a custom treatment plan and answer any questions you may have. To schedule an appointment, call our office at  (410) 709-3868 or fill out our contact form online.