Complications after Spinal or Epidural Anaesthetic - Nerve Damage - Treatment

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 22 May 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Jennifer Hares, 22 May 2017

The nerve damage may not be due to the epidural or spinal injection and other causes need to be considered.

If you have nerve damage, you should not assume that it is caused by the epidural or spinal injection. There are other possible causes of nerve damage involving the operation itself:

  • Your nerves can be damaged by the surgery. During some operations, this may be difficult or impossible to avoid. If this is the case, your surgeon should discuss it with you beforehand.
  • The position that you are placed in for the operation can stretch a nerve and damage it.
  • The use of a tourniquet to reduce blood loss during the operation will press on the nerve and may damage it. Tourniquets are used for many orthopaedic arm and leg operations. Swelling in the area after the operation can damage nerves.

The problems with the nerves may also be due to a health condition you already have, such as a condition that interferes with blood supply (for example, diabetes) or with nerve function (for example, multiple sclerosis).

If you are concerned you may have nerve damage from an epidural or spinal injection, it is important your anaesthetist knows about it. Your anaesthetist will be able to assess you. Your anaesthetist may arrange for you to see a doctor specialising in nerve diseases (a neurologist). Tests may be done to try to find out exactly where and how the damage has occurred. This might involve:

  • Nerve conduction studies (very small electrical currents are applied to the skin or muscles and recordings made further up the nerve. This shows whether the nerve is working or not).
  • MRI scanning: a form of body scan.
  • CT scanning: a form of body scan.

If necessary, the neurologist will suggest a treatment plan, which might include physiotherapy and exercise. If you have pain, medicines that relieve pain will be used. This may include medicines that are normally used for treating epilepsy or depression because of the way they change electrical activity in nerves. Treatment with medication is not always successful in relieving pain.

Occasionally an operation is necessary, either to repair a nerve or to relieve pressure on a stretched nerve.

Further reading and references

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