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Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Digital Nerve Repair

Contact: (0191) 282 5647 - Sister or Nurse in Charge, Ward 47, RVI

IntroductionShow [+]Hide [-]

This information sheet is intended to help you understand the operation and the aftercare that will be necessary to achieve the best result possible.

What is a Digital Nerve?

A digital nerve is a nerve that supplies the sensation to pulp (the part of the finger or thumb where the fingerprint is taken) and sides of the finger. There are two such nerves to each finger and thumb in the hand. Damage to this nerve reduces the sensation. If the nerve is not repaired, you will have a permanent numb patch on your finger, and there may be a tender area close to the scar.

During your procedureShow [+]Hide [-]

This operation may be carried out under either a local or general anaesthetic.
An information leaflet is available which will provide you with the details you require regarding your anaesthetic (The Trust Information Leaflet ‘You and Your Anaesthetic’).

A tourniquet is applied to the affected arm. It is similar to a blood pressure cuff and is filled with air. This helps the surgeon maintain a dry, blood free operation site during the procedure. The wound is explored and may require extending to find the nerve ends. The nerve is repaired with fine stitches. The incisions in the hand will be closed with stitches and a dressing and bandage applied. A Plaster of Paris splint maybe applied to hold your fingers in the most comfortable position and to protect the nerve repair.

After the operation you will return to the ward. For most patients the length of stay is overnight after the operation, but occasionally you may be allowed home that same day. Appointments will be given to you to have the stitches and splint removed at 14 days and to be reviewed in an outpatient clinic in approximately two months. Your wounds should be kept covered by dressings until the stitches are removed.
Initially you should refrain from driving. Your Consultant will advise you on this.

What are the consequences and risks?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • The return of sensation is not instantaneous. It is not like reconnecting two electrical wires. A new nerve has to re-grow across the site of repair and along the repaired nerve. This can take many months. It is unusual for the sensation to the finger or thumb pulp that is supplied by the nerve to return to 100% normal. Often there is still some numbness.
  • Your wound may not heal properly; you may need regular dressings until it does so.
  • If the wound becomes infected you may require a course of antibiotics.
  • At first your scar may be tender or painful.
  • You may develop very tender nodule beneath the skin (neuroma).
  • There may be a change in sensation on the side of the finger or thumb where the nerve was repaired.
  • When it is cold the hand may feel uncomfortable, discoloured or stiff.
  • Stiff finger joints.
  • Bending (Contracture) of the finger towards the palm.
  • Very rarely there is an alteration in the way your hand sweats, this may cause swelling and discomfort.

You should be aware that after the operation, until the nerve has begun to re-grow, the side of the finger or thumb, which the nerve supplied, would be completely numb. This area will therefore be more prone to injury such as burning, extreme cold etc, because you will not be able to feel pain. You should therefore protect this area from injury until the sensation has begun to return.

For most patients this operation does not involve these complications and they are pleased with the results of surgery. This sheet is not a complete list of all the possible complications, but it is provided to act as an additional source of information, following your discussion about the operation.

If you require any further information or advice please contact:

Sister or Nurse in Charge Plastic Surgery Out Patient Department, RVI

Telephone:  (0191) 282 4228 (direct line) Monday – Friday 8am – 5pm, or

Sister or Nurse in Charge Ward 47, RVI

Telephone:  (0191) 282 5647 (direct line) anytime

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