A University of California San Diego Health System reconstructive neurosurgeon recently developed a novel technique engineered to restore hand function in patients with spinal cord injury (SCI), reports a news release. During the 4-hour procedure, Justin M. Brown, MD, director of the Neurosurgery Peripheral Nerve Program and co-director of the Center for Neurophysiology and Restorative Neurology, UC San Diego Health System splices together tiny nerve endings to assist in restoring hand mobility. The release notes that many patients are able to return home 24 hours postsurgery.

Despite total loss of hand function, patients may still be able to regain some mobility provided there is some nerve in the arm or shoulder under the patient’s control, Brown explains. “With a nerve transfer, the goal is to reverse paralysis. This means achieving functional grasp and release so that patients can eat independently, operate a computer, or hold a loved one’s hand,” Brown adds.

According to the release, Brown and his team treat hand impairments at cervical level 5 and below. Using a microscope, the damaged nerve is disconnected and reconnected to a healthy nerve. “Over a period of 12 months, patients can essentially wake up their arms and hands and return to a satisfying level of functionality and improved quality of life,” Brown says.

He also advises that patients sometimes experience temporary weakness where the original healthy nerve is taken, but notes that these muscles can recover their original strength. The release reports that casting and immobilization are seldom needed postsurgery.

Source: UC San Diego Health System