Written by

Fiona Swarbrick - Associate, Head of Medical Negligence

Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy) develops when the nerves in the body’s extremities are damaged. Between the financial years of 2009/10 and 2020/21, there were 3,534 clinical claims received where the primary injury was nerve damage. 

Nerve damage can sometimes occur due to medical errors during surgery, this can have significant impacts on a patient’s life and potentially permanent life lasting effects. In this article, we will be discussing the warning signs of nerve damage after undergoing surgery.

 

How does nerve damage occur during surgery?

Nerve damage is a risk that is associated with surgical procedures. Surgeons will always take various measures and precautions to minimise the risk of nerve damage during surgery, however it can still occur. There are various different reasons why nerve damage can potentially occur during surgery: 

  • Compression related to position – during your surgery, you will be placed in a certain position in order for the surgery to be carried out, for example, you may have to lie on your front if you are having surgery on your back. If a nerve is stretched or compressed, this may cause nerve damage.
  • Tourniquets – sometimes a tourniquet, also known as a tight bandage, may be used to reduce surgical bleeding. This can cause there to be pressure on the nerve and may cause nerve damage. 
  • Surgical equipment – sometimes in surgery, a piece of surgical equipment known as a retractor may be used to hold structures in the body out of the way so that surgeons have a clearer view of where they are operating, this can also potentially put pressure on the nerves and cause damage. 
  • Direct injury – during your surgery, your surgeon may damage a nerve whilst operating. 
  • Pre-existing conditions – if you have a pre-existing condition that has already compromised your nerves, you may be more likely to suffer nerve damage during your surgery.  
  • Inserting a cannula – when a needle is used to place a cannula into a vein or an artery, nerve damage can occur. 

Signs and symptoms of nerve damage

Nerve damage can be a potential complication of surgery that can lead to a variety of symptoms. The severity and duration of the symptoms of nerve damage can vary depending on the location of nerve damage and how severe the damage was. Some of the most common signs of nerve damage after surgery can include: 

  • Numbness – patients may experience a numbness in the hands and feet 
  • Tingling – patients may also experience a pins and needles sensation in their hands and feet
  • Loss of balance and coordination – patients may have difficulty with balance 
  • Muscle weakness – patients may experience a decrease in muscle strength, especially in the feet

The signs and symptoms of nerve damage may come and go after your surgery, but they are usually constant and it is important to consult your healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms following your surgery. 

Diagnosis of nerve damage 

If you have any signs or symptoms of nerve damage, you may have to have further tests to confirm the nerve damage. These tests may include:

  • A nerve conduction test (NCS) – this is where small metal wires, known as electrodes, are placed on your skin and they release tiny electric shocks to stimulate your nerves. The speed and strength of the nerve signal is then measured. 
  • An electromyography (EMG) – this is where a small needle is inserted through your skin into your muscle. This is used to measure the electrical activity of your muscles. 

An NCS and an EMG are usually carried out at the same time to see if a patient has suffered any nerve damage during their surgery. 

 

Relieving nerve pain 

If you have suffered any form of nerve damage during surgery, you may experience neuropathic pain, this pain does not usually get better with painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, but there are other medicines that can help to relieve nerve pain. According to the NHS, the main medicines that are recommended for nerve pain are: 

  • Amitriptyline 
  • Duloxetine 
  • Pregabalin and gabapentin 

Additionally, the NHS advises that there are alternative medicines that can be used to relieve pain in a specific area of your body: 

  • Capsaicin cream – this cream can be used on the painful area of skin and it is thought to work for nerve pain by stopping the nerves sending pain messages to the brain. This cream should not be used on broken or inflamed skin. 

 

What should be done to prevent nerve damage during surgery? 

If you are due to undergo a surgical procedure, it is important that your surgical team try to prevent the risk of nerve damage. There are various steps involved in minimising the risk of nerve damage, including proper planning. It is important that the surgical team are aware of the patient’s medical history and know of any pre-existing conditions so that they are aware if the patient is going to be more prone to nerve damage due to a pre-existing condition such as diabetes. Once sufficient planning has taken place, it is important that the surgical team position the patient carefully during surgery in order to avoid stretching the nerves as much as possible. Once the surgery is complete, post operative care is also vital, avoiding prolonged bed rest and monitoring patients symptoms is crucial so that appropriate treatment is provided as soon as possible if nerve damage is suspected. 

Sometimes nerve damage can occur even if the surgical team have taken all of the precautionary steps, however if the team have not taken these measures, this could be regarded as negligent care. 

Nerve damage compensation claims

Nerve damage is a potential complication that could occur during surgery and as discussed, may have a significant impact on a patient’s life. If you have suffered nerve damage during surgery and it is due to medical negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. At Patient Claim Line, our experts work on a no win, no fee basis and will be able to assess whether or not you can make a claim for your nerve damage. If you feel as though you have suffered nerve damage due to medical negligence, please get in touch and one of our medical negligence experts will be able to guide you through your claims process. 

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