Joint Replacement Surgery Can Damage Nerves
Following joint replacement surgery, the expectation is for optimal success which means no pain, full use of the joint and return to normal activities. Most of the time, these expectations are met. An unfortunate few do not experience good results after a joint replacement surgery. Some experience problems with infections as already discussed. Others experience problems with nerve damage. Even though the surgeon discusses these risks, no one expects the worst will actually happen. When nerve damage occurs as a result of a joint replacement surgery, you need to be aware of what to look out for in case it happens to you.
One percent of those who have a hip replaced will have nerve damage as a result of the surgery. Although one percent seems like a nominal amount, it is not so insignificant when you are the one percent. Because the sciatic nerve is in very close proximity to the hip joint, replacing the joint can damage this nerve. Direct nerve damage can occur when the hip is dislocated or when the nerve is stretch or impeded by migrating cement. The most likely effected nerve is the peroneal division of the sciatic nerve; thus, the common symptoms to watch out for are foot drop and numbness at the top of the foot. Occasionally, the femoral nerve will be damaged by a hip replacement surgery. When the femoral nerve is impaired, the knee will tend to buckle or you may experience difficulty going up or down stairs. Fortunately, many of these cases of nerve damage are only temporary because nerves can heal. But 15% of these unfortunate few will have permanent nerve damage.
Nerve damage can also occur as a result of knee replacement surgery because the peroneal nerve resides close to the tibia bone. In fact, nerve damage is one reason why some people have persistent lateral knee pain and loss of function in the newly replaced knee. If that happens, the peroneal nerve can be decompressed surgically to allow it more room to recover. Surgeons have to pay particularly close attention to an individual’s anatomy and the surgical technique in order to avoid this unwanted complication from knee replacement surgery.
In the upper extremities, the radial nerve can be damage from either elbow or shoulder replacement surgery. Watch out for signs of nerve damage like wrist or hand weakness and numbness in the limb.
Although these complications are rare, nerve damage can happen. If it happens to you, don’t panic, seek professional help, and do everything possible to improve your health. Hopefully, the nerve will recover given time and care. Some medication might be needed to assist with nerve pain or an infection. Occasionally, a surgery might be needed to free-up a nerve. But given enough time and care, damaged nerves can heal after a joint replacement surgery.
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Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.