Lower extremity iatrogenic nerve injury due to compression during intraabdominal surgery

E D Dillavou, L R Anderson, R A Bernert, R A Mularski, G C Hunter, S M Fiser, W D Rappaport
American Journal of Surgery 1997, 173 (6): 504-8

BACKGROUND: latrogenic nerve injury due to poor positioning and external compression is a common surgical complication. However, sciatic neuropathy from external compression and femoral nerve injury after self-retaining retraction are less-published complications.

METHODS: Surgical Morbidity and Mortality Reports from 1986 through 1995 were reviewed to identify femoral and sciatic neuropathies following intraabdominal vascular and general surgeries.

RESULTS: Two sciatic and 5 femoral neuropathies were reported, an incidence of approximately 0.17% of abdominal cases. Sciatic injuries were attributed to external compression, whereas femoral neuropathies were due to compression by self-retaining retraction. The 3 female and 4 male patients had a mean age of 53.4 years, and no patient had a prior history of peripheral neuropathy. Mean operating time for sciatic injuries was 8.2 hours, versus 4.3 hours for femoral neuropathies. Both patients with sciatic neuropathy had complete resolution of symptoms, compared with 1 femoral neuropathy patient. Two femoral neuropathies were permanent, 1 had partial resolution and 1 had improvement at 4 months but was lost to follow-up.

CONCLUSIONS: Sciatic and femoral compression neuropathies are rare but serious complications of abdominal surgery. When retracting in the deep pelvis, consideration should be given to using small, well-padded retractor blades and repositioning these regularly. Prevention of sciatic nerve compression requires careful padding of the table surface, especially for longer cases.

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