Nerve Repair: A Comprehensive Guide

When a nerve is badly hurt, it can't heal on its own and needs to be fixed by surgery. To carry information from the brain to the rest of the body, bundles of fibers known as "nerves" are necessary. The ability to move depends on the brain sending signals to the muscles via specific neurons. Different nerves send pain, pressure, or temperature information to the central nervous system. Injuries to the many nerves in the body can disrupt sensation and movement.

Causes of Nerve Injury

There are a variety of potential causes of nerve damage. A cut, a crush, or a rip are all examples (avulsion). For example, trauma from an automobile accident or a stab wound can cause this. Iatrogenic nerve injury occurs when a doctor or surgeon accidentally injures a patient's nerves. The nerve will be hurt if a tumor has grown into a nerve and has to be taken out.

Signs and Symptoms of Nerve Injury

Injury to a nerve prevents it from functioning as a communication highway. Damage to a sensory neuron can cause a person to lose the ability to feel, for example. The inability or diminished strength to move in a certain way is a common symptom of damage to a motor nerve. Pain can also be caused by damage to a nerve, either at the location of the injury or further along the nerve's path.

Nerve Repair Diagnosis

Your doctor will conduct a thorough history and perform a physical examination to diagnose nerve injury. They will inquire about the nature of your symptoms and how long you have dealt with them. An NCS (Nerve Conduction Study) or an EMG (Electromyography) may be ordered if your doctor suspects nerve injury (EMG). A neurologist will do these examinations to determine whether your nerves are functioning normally or not.


Minor nerve damage sometimes heals independently, but more severe damage often needs surgical intervention. When an artery or vein is repaired, blood flow is restored quickly. When a nerve is repaired, only its tunnel is reconstructed. For the nerves to recover, they must grow again via this opening. That's why "planting a tree" is a metaphor often used to represent nerve healing. Until new nerve tissue grows from the injured nerve's origin to the affected muscle or skin, the nerve will not function normally.

If you hurt a small section of nerve badly, you can fix it directly. In such a situation, a surgeon will pull together the nerve's two ends and stitch them together using tiny sutures.

Direct healing may be impossible if the nerve has been crushed, torn, or infiltrated by malignancy. Your doctor may choose to perform a nerve graft in this instance. Nerve grafts can be taken from elsewhere in the patient's body or from a donor. This segment of the nerve connects the two extremities of the nerve.

It takes about a month for an inch of new nerve tissue to form. From where the nerve was hurt to where it ends up, it may take many months to heal and grow back. There may be discomfort or a "pins and needles" feeling along the nerve's path as it heals. When your nerve is growing, you may need therapy to keep your joints moving and deal with pain.

Long-term nerve injury may preclude the possibility of nerve healing. When a nerve doesn't signal to a muscle for a long time, the muscle may stop responding. Depending on the nature of the nerve damage, the patient's age, and other circumstances, this may take longer or shorter than 18 months. The doctor may suggest moving a nerve or tendon if the nerve can't be fixed.

Final Thoughts

You may not be able to drive yourself home from the hospital, and you may also need help for a few days afterward if your nerve repair surgery has to be done in a hard-to-reach place.

During the healing process, patience and time are essential for nerve recovery. The time it takes for the nerve to heal depends on how much growth is required. Around a month, nerves will have grown back by one inch. At subsequent consultations, your surgeon will evaluate how well your nerve regeneration is progressing.

For an injured nerve to heal, nerve fibers must regrow throughout its whole length, from the nerve's origin to the point where it joins the muscle. It may take as long as a year to accomplish that. The next step is for the nerve impulses to travel through the muscle. It takes some time for the nerve to integrate into the muscle and start sending signals to which the muscle can respond. The time frame for that procedure typically ranges from one to two years.

Time and restraint are required at this point. If you want to know if your body is growing new nerve fibers, you won't be able to feel it. However, by participating in physical therapy, you are aiding your recovery. The treatment prevents you from becoming numb, keeps your muscles from wasting away, and stimulates your nerves. Once the muscle contractions start, the exercises will focus on building strength to get the body moving normally again.

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