Surgical Information – Procedures

Digital Nerve Repair

What isdigital nerve repair?

Digital nerve repair is a microsurgical procedure to reconnect the severed ends of a nerve in the finger or hand. In this intricate procedure, the surgeon matches up the nerve fibers and uses tiny stiches to sew together the outer layer of tissue that insulates and protects the nerve. Repairing this outer cover enables the nerve fibers to grow back to the muscles and work again.

Because there are millions of fibers within each nerve, not all original connections are re-established. Additionally, if there is a gap between the nerve ends, the surgeon may need to take a nerve graft from another part of the body to fix it. Smaller gaps are often bridged with a vein or cylinder.

Once the nerve cover is fixed, the nerve fibers usually start growing across the repair site within three or four weeks. Growth is gradual and it may take as long as a year before feeling returns to the affected area.

Anatomy

Nerves form the wiring system that carries messages between the brain and the body. Digital nerves are nerves that travel from the palm to the tips of the fingers and thumb. They can be damaged by pressure, stretching or cutting. Injury that severs a digital nervestops the transmission of signals to and from the brain, preventing muscles from working and causing loss of feeling in the hand and fingers.

When is surgery recommended?

Digital nerve repair is recommended for injuries that completely sever the nerve fibers in the fingers or hand. Injuries that only bruise the nerve typically heal on their own. Because it is sometimes difficult to determine the extent of the injury, it’s important to consult a qualified hand and upper extremity specialist for assessment and treatment.

What is the recovery time?

Nerve fibers typically begin to regrow about three or four weeks after surgery. During this time, patients must wear a splint to prevent the repaired nerve from stretching apart. Patients usually feel pins and needles in the fingertips, which is a sign that the nerve is healing. Nerve growth is gradual and it can take as long as a year before feeling returns to the fingertips.

Physical therapy with a Certified Hand Specialist is important to keep the joints flexible and prevent stiffness, which could impair function long-term. Depending on the nature of the injury, sensory re-education may be necessary to improve feeling in the hand or finger.

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