Baltimore plastic surgeon and peripheral nerve surgeon Eric H. Williams, M.D., specializes in surgical care of patients with injuries of the peripheral nervous system and may be able to help you overcome the chronic pain and dysfunction that can accompany these nerve injuries, including those that develop after another operation.
If you suffer from severe pain in your upper or lower limbs, groin, abdomen, chest, or head and neck and want to get better, Dr. Williams will work with you to identify the source of the problem – which could be nerve injury, nerve entrapment, or even chronic regional pain syndrome. If your chronic pain is the result of nerve injury from a previous surgery, we will create a plan to try to treat it.
Some pain after surgery is normal and to be expected for a certain period of time (as was likely discussed by your treating physician), but there might be a larger issue at play when the pain does not go away after an appropriate timeframe. Severe pain experienced six months—or longer—following a surgery usually indicates a problem.
Consider contacting our office for a consultation with Dr. Williams. He takes the time to listen to you and your concerns, carefully evaluate your condition and then determine if he can provide options that will enable you to move ahead with your life, leaving the post-surgical pain in your rearview mirror.
What You Are Experiencing
Various surgeries are more painful than others, so some take longer for recovery. For example, recovering from shoulder, bunion, or hernia surgery typically takes longer than from gall bladder or carpal tunnel surgery. It is important for you to have a good understanding from your original, treating physician as to what a normal recovery period is for the operation performed.
Something else to keep in mind is that surgeries should improve your pain and function. When you have surgery for a painful ankle, the procedure is supposed to make the ankle better so you can walk, run, and work without being in excruciating pain. If you aren’t better after the original procedure, perhaps there is another diagnosis that was missed or perhaps the original diagnosis was only partly treated. Pain originating from a peripheral nerve cause is often overlooked and Dr. Williams would be happy to evaluate you for this.
It also isn’t normal if you have worse pain after your surgery then you did before the operation, especially if it lasts longer than six months. At this point, it is chronic pain, which means it is lasting beyond what is typically expected. Dr. Williams has extensive experience in evaluating patients who have either persistent pain or a new worsening pain that was not present prior to a surgical procedure.
When this pain is caused by nerve injuries—undiagnosed nerve issues, compressed nerves above or below the surgical site, or a nerve stuck in scar tissue—it tends to be electric, sharp, burning, searing, or hypersensitive. Patients report feeling as though they have “an electrical cord plugged into [them]” or “the worst sunburn ever.” Affected areas can become numb to the touch, or there may be a loss of muscle function in an affected toe, foot, finger, or hand. In some instances, painful weakness or complete paralysis is experienced.
Naturally, every patient and every case is unique, but some symptoms after surgery are more common than others. These include:
- Chronic pain in your great toe after “technically-successful” bunion surgery. You might be experiencing burning pain in the foot, which can keep you up at night (especially when even light bedsheets cause painful sensations). Socks and shoes are another source of extreme discomfort—to the point you cannot wear shoes—and you may feel as though you are walking on pins and needles. The site of the scar can also be rather painful.
- Chronic pain in your chest wall or arm after “technically-successful” breast surgery for cancer or cosmetic purposes. Common complaints are pain from wearing a bra, feeling as though a nipple is “on fire,” hypersensitivity to wearing clothing, and shooting pain and burning in the armpit or inner arm.
- Chronic pain anywhere in the groin area after “technically-successful” hernia surgery, C-section, hip surgery. In these cases, there can be pain from simply sitting, wearing a belt, and even from your underwear touching the skin. Physical intimacy may be virtually impossible because of pain or burning in the hip or groin area, and you may resort to wearing very loose-fitting clothing to avoid pain.
- Chronic pain in your wrist and hand after “technically-successful” arm surgery. You may avoid any physical contact with the affected arm on account of the pain (which can even be triggered by wind blowing across the skin). This can restrict you to only wearing short-sleeved shirts, and you might not be able to wear a watch without it causing problems for you.
- Only partial improvement, no improvement, or worsened pain after tarsal tunnel surgery on your ankle. This may be experienced as tingling and burning sensations or numbness in the sole of the foot, the toes, or heel.
- Chronic pain in and around your knee after a "technically-successful" knee replacement (and in the absence of an infection). This pain can be severe to the point you are unable to kneel, walk, bend the knee, and even clothing touching the skin can feel like someone is using a blow torch across the skin.
- Chronic pain after a “technically-successful” orthopedic surgery to repair an injured foot (ankle sprain, ankle fracture, fibula fracture, tibial fracture, foot bone fracture, etc.).
- Pain in any surgical scar. The scar tissue can be particularly sensitive to even light touch. Wind blowing or water running across the area can trigger highly-painful sensations.
As you probably noticed, there are two recurrent themes – the pain is chronic and the surgery was technically successful. We noted earlier that chronic pain is the kind lasting longer than it should. Severe pain experienced six months after the procedure is abnormal and likely needs to be addressed.
A “technically-successful” surgery is one wherein the procedure achieved what it was supposed to (repair an injured foot, remove a cancerous tumor, etc.). It is a problem, though, when there are new issues following the surgery.
Sometimes, the issues aren’t exactly “new.” They may have been present the whole time but were masked by a more prominent issue (the one being addressed with surgery). It is also possible for a nerve condition to have worsened during or after the operation.
What We Do for You
You’ve had persistent pain for several months after your surgery, and your treating physician isn’t able to pinpoint what’s wrong. Perhaps you even went for a second opinion, but still, couldn’t find the answers you need. Now you’re in pain and want to get better, which means it’s time to call us and request an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Eric H. Williams.
In this particular medical field, very few patients and conditions are exactly alike. For this reason, Dr. Williams always takes the time to listen attentively to everything you have to say. He will ask questions to better understand what you’re experiencing. This is needed to assess what might have happened, and determine if any of his techniques can possibly take away your pain, improve motor function, and restore your quality of life.
After collecting all data, and completely evaluating your situation, Dr. Williams will work diligently to create a potentially effective treatment plan. He reviews all possible outcomes—both potential risks and hopeful benefits—and helps you understand them so you can make an informed decision for your medical care.
Your individual treatment plan will be customized, taking into consideration all of your unique symptoms, complaints, and treatment goals.
For many patients, the root cause of the problem is a nerve that has been injured, compressed, stretched, or stuck in scar tissue. Dr. Williams will decide which of his techniques—including nerve reconstruction, nerve decompression, and nerve resection—might work best in your situation. He may recommend revising an existing procedure or your case me need a completely different approach. Additional surgery in different locations is sometimes the solution. Of course, he may conclude there isn’t a nerve issue at all and surgery will not improve the situation.
If you would like additional information about the services Dr. Williams provides to relieve chronic pain after surgery, simply contact our Baltimore, MD office by calling (410) 337-5400. While on the line, ask about scheduling an appointment for a consultation so you can get started on your path to recovery.